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Lords Chamber

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 17 May 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 17 May 2007.

The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Asylum Seekers: Torture Victims

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will ensure that there are effective procedures for referring all detained asylum applicants who allege previous torture or rape to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, or to other medical practitioners experienced in the field.

My Lords, it is not Home Office policy to refer detained asylum seekers who allege that they have been tortured or raped directly to the Medical Foundation or other medical practitioners. However, where it appears that there may be some basis to their allegation, I am satisfied that effective procedures are in place to enable detained asylum seekers to access such services.

My Lords, this is a difficult matter, which has been going on for years. Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern that the Home Office has been breaching its own guidelines? Is it not the case that medical records on paper seldom reveal whether someone is a torture survivor and that staff at removal centres, even the health staff, are not trained to identify such people? Will the Government therefore do everything necessary to ensure that alleged cases are referred to experienced practitioners?

My Lords, I assure the House that the Home Office is not in breach of its own guidelines. I am aware that, as the noble Lord says, there has been concern about the issue. In the light of the recent changes to the asylum process that have now been rolled out across the country, the Border and Immigration Agency will look again at how we deal with the Medical Foundation and work to develop new processes during the next few months.

My Lords, the Minister may be satisfied with the effectiveness of the process, but Anne Owers, the chief inspector, in three successive reports on Dungavel, Campsfield House and Harmondsworth, found that healthcare staff were not trained in handling victims of torture. Although pro forma letters were sent to the IND in accordance with Rule 35, notifying allegations of torture, there was hardly ever any feedback. Will the noble Baroness undertake to publish the internal audit by Mr Stuart Hyde by placing a copy in the Library, and is she satisfied that Mr Hyde had access to proper medical and legal advice in conducting his investigation?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is not usual to publish such internal reports. I will certainly take that matter back to see what we can do. The change in the process that we have now adopted with case management enhances the opportunity accurately to identify those cases where individuals may need additional support. With the work that we have undertaken together with representatives, we believe that we are now better able to identify appropriate cases.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many asylum seekers who are currently in detention centres are known to have recorded independent evidence of having been tortured? What is the average length of time that they spend there in those circumstances?

My Lords, I can certainly give the right reverend Prelate statistics on how many of the detained are fast-tracked through NSA procedures. At Harmondsworth, the intake was 990 cases, of which 40 were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision and four were released post-decision. In Yarl’s Wood, the intake was 412, including 30 NSAs. Thirty-six cases, including three NSA cases, were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision. Four were released post-decision. At Oakington, the total intake was 2,893. Seventy-two cases were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision and none was released post-decision.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons into healthcare at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, where women and children are held. She will also be aware that the report was very critical of aspects of the healthcare, particularly for the victims of torture held in detention. She will be aware, too, that the management of Yarl’s Wood changed earlier this year and that there have been reports of demonstrations against the new management because of a deterioration in the treatment. Can she tell the House what has been happening at Yarl’s Wood? Has the situation been resolved, and what effects has it had on the very vulnerable women and children who are held there?

My Lords, we are taking steps in relation to Yarl’s Wood. As the noble Baroness said, there have been a number of protests at Yarl’s Wood, fuelled by fears that the regime will be reduced following the transfer of the operating contract from GSL to Serco. This will involve changes, and staff at Yarl’s Wood have been proactive in dealing with these fears and protests, including food refusals, which have now been dealt with. These issues are of concern, but I assure the House that everything is being done to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained throughout.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to join me in praising the valuable work that the Medical Foundation does on behalf of victims of torture? I understand that over half those who are referred to it come from African countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Will she take the opportunity today to tell the House what pressure the Government are putting on the Governments of those countries to end these barbaric practices?

My Lords, I absolutely endorse what the noble Baroness says about the excellent work that is being done by the Medical Foundation, and indeed by a couple of other organisations that have targeted this as an issue. She will know that we are making strenuous efforts in this whole area to try to ensure that there is better understanding of what needs to be done to stop this sort of behaviour. The work that we are doing through DfID is extremely important and we are, we think, helping to make a difference.

My Lords, will the Minister do what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, I and other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights have done and visit Yarl’s Wood, see the inmates on their own without staff and then see the staff? Will she then tell us the results of that, because we were horrified?

My Lords, I would of course be delighted so to do, but the noble Lord will know that I have the pleasure of now being the Minister of State responsible for crime reduction. My honourable friend Liam Byrne is the Minister responsible for Yarl’s Wood, which I believe he has visited on a number of occasions. If the opportunity arose to visit it, I would be more than happy to do so.

Terrorism: Inquiries

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to deal with leaks from terrorist inquiries so that public safety is not endangered.

My Lords, the Government deprecate all leaks, especially leaks of information about counter-terrorism operations. It has been the practice of successive Governments not to comment on leak inquiries in order not to reveal specific techniques or information that could jeopardise investigations or operations. I can, however, assure the noble Lord that the Government attach the highest priority to public safety and do everything in their power to ensure that it is maintained.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, but she will know that on 9 May a civil servant, David Keogh, was convicted under the Official Secrets Act for attempting to leak a document about conversations between the Prime Minister and President Bush on Iraq. If that document had hit the public domain, it would have caused the Government great embarrassment and damaged international relationships. However, that pales into insignificance compared with the leaking of the police investigation in Birmingham into terrorist suspects, which could have put lives at risk. Why have the Government refused to have an official inquiry into this? Is it to do with the fact that one of the chief suspects is the special adviser to the Home Secretary?

My Lords, first, it would be quite improper to make any such comment or assertion. I have made it plain that it is our practice not to comment on leak inquiries in order not to reveal specific techniques or information. Therefore, I cannot comment on what the noble Lord has said, but perhaps I may say to him that it would be quite improper to make the assumptions that have just been implicitly made in that statement.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that the case of David Keogh demonstrates the importance of rigorous investigation. Perhaps that is an example of what happens to those who behave improperly and trespass in this dangerous way. I can certainly assure the House and the noble Lord that every step will be taken to make sure that that is fully understood by those who seek to put our country in danger in that way.

My Lords, when opposition spokesmen are briefed on intelligence and security matters, are they required to have signed the Official Secrets Act or is it done on privy counsellor terms? If they subsequently disclose publicly the information in that briefing, what sanctions can be taken against them?

My Lords, as noble Lords will know, privy counsellor terms depend on the honour of the privy counsellor. We would be desperately disappointed if any privy counsellor proved not to be worthy of that name.

My Lords, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Peter Clarke, described as beneath contempt those who leaked information about intelligence in relation to the Birmingham incident. There may not be any prima facie evidence at this stage, but this is far too serious a matter, which can compromise the security of this country. Is it possible to invite the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate whether there is any substance in the allegation made by Peter Clarke?

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord knows well that decisions on whether to take proceedings are for the police. Perhaps the case of David Keogh is an example of how things are done. Noble Lords will know that no indication was made before that gentleman was dealt with as to whether there was or was not a leak inquiry. The police were able to look at the matter. They took the necessary course. He was charged, duly tried, convicted and sentenced, which is exactly what should happen to anyone who betrays their country in that way.

My Lords, has the Minister heard the allegations that there are officers in the Metropolitan Police and other police constabularies who are on the payroll of national newspapers to sell information, including highly sensitive information, which puts the public at even further risk in these cases of alleged terrorism? Does my noble friend think that there is any virtue in asking the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to inquire into this and in asking the Press Complaints Commission to see what it can do from that end of the business?

My Lords, I hear of those concerns and, of course, read the newspapers, as does my noble friend and a number of others. It really is for the commissioner to decide what further or other steps to take in relation to inquiring and bringing those to justice if evidence is available to indicate that their culpability needs to be brought to book.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it beggars belief that police officers at the centre of the terrorist inquiry we are now debating would themselves have given that information? Does she further agree that Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke would hardly have said what he did a week or 10 days ago had he had any belief at all that his officers were involved?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it beggars belief that any serving officer entrusted with such a delicate task would seek to betray his office in that way. I am also confident that if it proved to be the case, the deputy assistant commissioner would deal with any such officer very robustly.

My Lords, it seems that a new doctrine is being advanced here—that it is improper ever to announce a leak inquiry. In practice, there would often be such an inquiry. Does the noble Baroness agree that when she said in her Answer that she was against this sort of thing happening, she gave no indication of what the Government are actually doing about an extremely serious matter, as the noble Lord made clear from his experience?

My Lords, perhaps I may say to the House as clearly as I can that it is not practice to indicate whether there is a leak inquiry, not least because if we were so to indicate, it might alert those who may be subject to such an inquiry. It is therefore not our practice so to do. Once information is referred to the police, it is entirely a matter for them, together with the Crown Prosecution Service, to take appropriate action if they deem it necessary to do so.

Roads: Nichols Report

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they are taking to respond to the findings of the Nichols report, Review of Highways Agency’s Major Roads Programme.

My Lords, in a Statement made in the other place on 14 March 2007, the Government fully accepted the recommendations of the Nichols review. A copy of that Statement was placed in the Library of the House. The Department for Transport and the Highways Agency have now set up a dedicated team to implement the recommendations as a priority.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. He will be aware that the Nichols report states that the cost estimates of Highways Agency schemes have gone up by 25 per cent in 18 months. Does he agree that that is a worse escalation than took place in the worst days of Railtrack, which caused the Government of the day to put a moratorium on investment? Would my noble friend consider putting a moratorium on road investment until the Nichols team has got going and satisfied him that the costs are under control?

My Lords, we are extremely grateful to Mr Nichols for his work. There were problems in early scheme development, which is why the review was set up. We now have a team to deliver the Nichols review recommendations as a priority, and we anticipate that the majority of them will be implemented by the end of the financial year. For those reasons, it would be very ill-advised to order a moratorium on spending.

My Lords, following on from the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I too would not want to see a moratorium on investment in road improvements. I am concerned that, because of the tremendous escalation in costs revealed by Nichols, road schemes might not be started or will be cancelled. Can the Minister assure us that planned road schemes will continue according to the current programme?

My Lords, that is indeed the case. Since 2001, 45 major schemes have been completed, 21 schemes are under construction and the Highways Agency’s current programme comprises 67 schemes each worth over £5 million. We are cracking on with important road improvements.

My Lords, has not the Nichols report been supplemented by a further report from the National Audit Office showing that the costs of a number of road schemes are now completely out of control? The worst example is probably the A3 improvement at Hindhead, which is now running at 247 per cent over the original estimate. Bearing in mind that my noble friend’s department has cancelled very good tramway and light-rail schemes in places such as Leeds, Liverpool and south Hampshire, is it not time that we had a proper value-for-money study of road schemes against public transport?

My Lords, the department is extremely conscious of its obligation to secure value for money. For both road and public transport schemes, we require that a cost increase be subject to a reappraisal to ensure that the scheme still offers value for money at the higher cost. Many road schemes retain high value for money despite cost increases. Tram schemes are in much the same position where lower cost alternatives are available.

My Lords, the Government’s method for reducing the demand for roads is by introducing road pricing. Where are they on their plans to trial road pricing? Under any such trials, how will they ensure that the personal privacy of drivers, in terms of where they have been driving, is protected?

My Lords, I am not able to supply the detail for which the noble Lord asks today. We are looking at road pricing; it has been a constant theme in policy development in recent years. Like everyone else, we value and respect people’s personal privacy.

My Lords, are comparisons being made between the cost-effectiveness of further investment in widening roads and that of further investment in the railways? On the east coast, a great deal has been invested in roads to help in transporting containers from east-coast ports to the north and so on, but we are not investing in railways, which could take a lot of that heavy transport. Is the cost-effectiveness of investment in roads being compared to that of rail investment within a single budget?

My Lords, I do not like to say it, but that is a simplistic way of looking at things. We must look at each scheme to ensure that it secures value for money. I understand the road-versus-rail argument, but in a complex modern economy we require both. That is why we invest heavily in rail and road networks.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the Luxembourg and French Governments have just announced a new freight line from Perpignan to Luxembourg which will also take juggernaut lorries? Why do we not do that here?

My Lords, that interesting development is to be applauded. I am sure that we would all like to see more freight going on to the railway network, and we have ensured that since we have been in government. In the past 10 years—my noble friend Lord Berkeley can probably confirm the figure—freight on rail has increased by some 60 per cent.

My Lords, the Minister said that the Government would look at road pricing. Will he give an assurance that they will look at it and then discard it?

My Lords, the noble Earl is entitled to his view, but I always think it is unwise to jump to early conclusions.

My Lords, perhaps I can help my noble friend by saying that there has been a 60 per cent increase in rail freight. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. In response to my noble friend Lord Faulkner’s question about the Hindhead bypass cost escalation, the Minister said that any project in which there had been a serious cost escalation would be subject to a review. Has there been a recent review of that project to determine whether it still offers value for money?

My Lords, under the general rubric I issued on that point earlier, it will have been subject to a review. I shall check that with the department and inform my noble friend in writing.

Cyclists: Highway Code

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of several cycling organisations.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will amend the proposed Highway Code so that, instead of providing that cyclists must use cycle facilities (for example, cycle lanes), it provides that they should do so where this would help with their journey.

My Lords, I ought to declare an interest as an occasional cyclist. The advice on using cycling facilities in the proposed Highway Code is not a legal requirement. It does not place any compulsion on cyclists to use cycle facilities and it remains their decision whether or not they follow this advice. The distinction between legal requirements and advisory rules is made clear in the introduction to the code.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. The trouble with it is that others do not seem to agree with him. Recent decisions by a court and by insurance companies would indicate that they think that the Highway Code does have a force in law. This means that in the event of an accident, if a cyclist is not using a cycle path or track, even if it is more dangerous to do so or more inconvenient, there is a chance of contributory negligence. Does my noble friend agree that the simplest way to resolve this dilemma and to clarify the situation is simply to amend the wording and not leave it to legal argument?

My Lords, the Highway Code makes clear in its introduction which parts of the code are a legal requirement and which are not by the simple use of the words “must” and “must not”, which are highlighted in red throughout the code. As for the controversy over the change in wording, the change that was advised—I think it was from “when practicable” to “whenever possible”—was made on the advice of lawyers who believed that the second formulation was more accurate than the first.

My Lords, how many times have cyclists been prosecuted for going through red lights, which they do very frequently?

My Lords, I am with the noble Baroness in this regard; as a driver, I sometimes get irritated by cyclists who do that. I do not have those statistics in front of me, but I am willing to try to research them. All road users should be obliged to stick to the Highway Code and obey the rules of the road because that is right, and by doing that we all understand exactly what we are doing on the roads.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that while it may help cyclists with their journey to ride along the pavements, shoot the red lights and ride the wrong way up one-way streets, it does not help pedestrians? Will the Government construct more cycling facilities but at the same time strengthen the Highway Code and enforce the law much more rigorously to deal with the problem of cyclists who put pedestrians and others at risk?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. He is right and I support what he has said. Through local government, which by and large has a responsibility for cycle routes and so on, we have been investing in providing means whereby cyclists can be safely separated out from other traffic where they do not cause offence, annoyance or the potential for harm and injury to pedestrians.

My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a regular cyclist. Is the Minister aware that the new Highway Code proposals are in fact at odds with the advice given to cyclists under the national standard for cycle training? Do not these proposals actually make cycling even more dangerous?

My Lords, I do not think so. Very careful thought has been given to the wording used. We took this out to consultation, and there were concerns about the words used under rule 47. We reflected on that and some of that wording was changed. We continue to listen. I know that noble Lords continue to have concerns over these issues. We are talking regularly to the CTC, the cyclists’ organisation, to try to come to a reasonable accommodation on this, and we will continue to do so because it is in everyone’s interest that we should.

My Lords, I passed my driving test in 1969, which was some time ago, and I do not think I have ever looked at the Highway Code since, which is probably a great shame. How can the Government encourage long-term drivers like me to refresh their knowledge of such road skills? It also seems to me that drivers in this country are becoming less tolerant of other road users these days, particularly in terms of minor mistakes. How can we encourage greater civility on our roads? Or is it just my bad driving?

My Lords, I hope it is not a common trait on the Liberal Democrat Benches to fail to read the Highway Code. That is not an allegation I would often make against the Liberal Democrats, but there we go. Careful reading of the code is helpful, and I am sure it would make the noble Lord and other noble Lords better drivers.

My Lords, 11,000 people have written to their MPs on this issue. Seventy per cent of those who responded to the consultation were cyclists. Surely it is the duty of the Government to try to put this right and change the wording. It must be much more sensible to do that than to have this ambiguity over the Highway Code, because there is a lot of unease about it.

My Lords, I fully acknowledge that there is some unease about the wording, but when one boils it down the argument is about the use of either the term “when practicable” or the term “whenever possible”. The lawyers have given clear advice to the department that “whenever possible” offers greater clarity in legal terms than “when practicable”. In the end, it is a matter of personal judgment. My own view is that the important thing is to improve road safety, and I am not exactly sure that an argument about those two forms of wording will do exactly that. As a Government we have been involving ourselves in practical measures and investing in training so that people become better cyclists and use the roads, and those cycle facilities provided to assist in that process, more safely.

My Lords, does my noble friend ever drive home at night and see that the prime danger from cyclists is that they do not light their bicycles properly? There is a constant danger of running into cyclists because they have no lights at the rear of their bicycles, too often their clothing is dark and they often do not wear sufficient protective clothing. Surely cyclists should be induced to save their own lives by looking after their own safety.

My Lords, perhaps cyclists in Brighton are different. I am not aware of having come across too many cyclists who have failed to indicate where they are going; indeed, they have helped me by what they are wearing and by using a helmet, so I do not entirely agree with my noble friend. We should encourage the safer use of cycles and of course people should wear high-visibility clothing and helmets so that they are better protected. But I also encourage people to think carefully about how they use their cycle and, where appropriate, to have cycling training.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of both motoring and cycling organisations. Forgetting the legal points for the moment, is the Minister really comfortable that the department for which he speaks should appear to endorse wording which virtually all the cycling organisations feel will encourage cyclists to cycle in a way that is less safe than at present? It encourages them, under all circumstances, to use cycle ways which may not be fit for purpose through poor design or poor maintenance.

My Lords, the department is extremely conscious of the need to get this right. I have gone through the wording very carefully with your Lordships; if your Lordships have a better form of wording, we will listen to it. We have been consulting for a very long time on this and are determined to get it right.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, a Statement on Post Offices will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Truscott.

Business of the House: Science and Heritage (S&T Report)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Science and Heritage (9th Report, Session 2005–06, HL Paper 256) be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions Bill

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Pensions Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 11,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 12 and 13,

Schedule 3,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 14 and 15,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 16 and 17,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 18 and 19,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 20 to 25,

Schedule 7,

Clauses 26 to 30.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Cluster Munitions

rose to call attention to the proceedings of the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions on 22 and 23 February; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Oslo conference was on cluster munitions. During the few moments that it will take the Chamber to empty of those who do not share our aims and ambitions, I will read to your Lordships an eyewitness account of a raid using cluster munitions:

“As they descended, the outer casings were released allowing a number of small anti-personnel bombs to be scattered over a large area …. Some exploded on impact with the ground, some landed in the trees and were suspended by their ‘wings’ on the branches of trees, others caught on guttering, telephone wires, chimney stacks ... The public was asked to report any sighting but under no circumstance attempt to move them ... There was complete terror among the population of the town for many months”.

That town was Grimsby in the United Kingdom. The raid took place in 1943—this is not a new phenomenon. Some of your Lordships will remember, as I do, the leaflets that were stuck up in the streets and handed round in the schools telling one what these things looked like and not to touch them. They will also remember, if they were my curious age at the time, how keen they were to discover one for themselves. Since then, both we and these weapons have grown up.

For the sake of those reading this debate, I should say a little about what modern cluster munitions are. They can be launched by aircraft, rocket or artillery. They contain large numbers of submunitions, or bomblets, which are released over a target area within which enemy soldiers or equipment are thought to be. The submunitions carry a shaped charge of high explosive, intended to explode on impact, driving a bolt of molten metal through whatever it hits, whether it is a tank, a bus, a person or simply a house or field. The field can be the size of a football pitch if an air-launched weapon is used, carrying anything from 147 to 650 submunitions. A single strike by a multi-launch rocket system would saturate all the ground between Vauxhall Bridge and the Oval with thousands of them.

These submunitions are lethal when they detonate. They are more lethal when they do not, because they are apt to go off if disturbed. Our troops do not like them because, if they have to move across the ground on which they have been used, they are in fact walking into an unmarked minefield. Civilians do not like them because many of those killed or maimed after a war are civilians. There are up to 100 civilian casualties every year in Vietnam from a war that finished more than 30 years ago. Handicap International keeps a fully authenticated register of injuries from cluster weapons, which, as of last week, amounted to 11,044. The organisation accepts that only a fraction of such injuries are recorded in this way and believes the total to be nearer 30,000 civilian casualties.

Your Lordships will therefore join me in warmly congratulating the Government on withdrawing two of the three types of weapons that we hold. However, there is a third still in service and ready to use— the M85 155 millimetre artillery shell containing 49 submunitions, which it spreads over an area of roughly 50 metres square. I fear that the Minister holds the view, imparted to him by his advisers, that this is an acceptable weapon because it has a self-destruct mechanism designed to destroy it 15 seconds after impact if it has not already gone off. The manufacturer, Israel Military Industries Ltd, has published claims about this weapon that the Minister may well have read. The company states:

“Our testing suggests that the M85 cluster device has hazardous dud rate of 0.06%”.

It goes on to claim:

“Our M85 devices are the most environmentally friendly in the world because they leave no environmental hazards behind and only minute numbers of hazardous duds”.

I have seen a video of a 50 metre-square field in the Lebanon with 20 unexploded submunitions of exactly that type in it. If only two rounds were fired at the same spot, very wastefully, that is a failure rate of over 20 per cent. The probability is nearer 40 per cent.

Noble Lords do not have to trust me about that; they may trust instead the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre in south Lebanon. Of the use of the same munitions there, the centre says:

“We can state categorically that we are finding large numbers of unexploded M85 submunitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self-destruct afterwards. In effect these submunitions have failed twice. These M85 submunitions are even more dangerous than other types because the self-destruct mechanism makes them more problematic to deal with”.

Those who want to continue using those weapons say that most of these duds are “non-hazardous”. There is no such thing as a non-hazardous dud. The bomblet is designed to explode when a metal striker hits a fulminate of mercury cap inside the weapon. In transit, a metal bar separates the two so that nothing can happen. When the vicious little thing leaves its pod, it begins to spin because of the ribbon on its back. The spin withdraws the bar arming the main detonator by flicking that bar away. The same movement causes a small mechanism to ignite a fuse made of old-fashioned gunpowder and timed to reach the same detonator 15 seconds later.

If the striker has not fired the detonator, the fuse will—so long as the gunpowder has not got damp. If the bomb has armed correctly but the striker has malfunctioned and the powder trail has got damp, you have a bomb waiting for a sufficient jolt to bring the striker down on the cap and blow it up when it is kicked—for instance, by a schoolboy. It is striking that by far the largest number of casualties are boys of an inquisitive age. It may be, of course, that the bomb is blown out of a tree or is run over by a lorry. If, on the other hand, the bomb has not armed because, say, it did not spin when released, what you have is a pretty little toy with a ribbon on the end—a little yellow toy with a little beige ribbon—just the nice sort of thing to whirl round your head if you are a child, and by far the greatest number of casualties are children. That, of course, is spinning it; it is arming the machine. Then, in just 15 seconds, both the bomb and your head will go off.

Such weapons are an affront to humanity and are properly the subject of United Nations interest. The arm of the UN known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was set up to establish international agreement on the use of such weapons. These weapons first came before it in 2001. It has met twice a year since and has made absolutely no progress towards any limitation of the use of these weapons. The Norwegians in particular became exasperated by this lack of progress and on this, their national day—I declare an interest as the son of a Norwegian mother—I am glad to congratulate them on inviting to Oslo any countries prepared to commit to signing an international treaty to limit the use of these weapons by an agreed date.

Forty-nine countries, including the United Kingdom, went to Oslo. It was fascinating and depressing to listen to the discussions and to talk to our delegation until almost the last moment when, gloriously, the United Kingdom joined 45 other countries in committing to a treaty by 2008. That was a wonderful surprise and I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for his part in securing it, which I believe has been considerable behind the scenes.

What the Government signed up to commits the participating states—I abbreviate the following—to conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument that will prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It goes on about dealing with the aftermath. I worry about the phrase “cause unacceptable harm to civilians”, because that is a huge area for debate. I suspect that the MoD would like us to think that its B45 falls outside that definition. Can we please assure it that we do not? I have read out the manufacturer’s blurb and the United Nations’ damning contradiction of it. Can we therefore please impress on the Minister, as a matter not just of common humanity but of practical politics, the need to get rid of this weapon? We should use what diplomatic wiles we can to get there.

Let me add a few words, as I think that I have inadvertently turned over two pages and have more time than I thought. I pause to commend the Government for the way in which they have committed themselves to clearing mines. On 16 April, the Secretary of State for International Development announced at col. 3WS of Commons Hansard that £6.5 million has been spent on demining in Afghanistan, halving—please note that—but not concluding the continuing rate of civilian casualties. I do not think that we can have used mines in Afghanistan. Did we not sign the Ottawa convention banning them before we invaded? Are we to take it then that this money has been spent on destroying failed British cluster munitions? If so, how many did we fire?

I apologise for not giving the noble Lord notice of this question. He may want to fill out whatever he has to say here on paper. For instance, did we fire on the scale that we did in the first Gulf War, where we fired 3,516—think how many submunitions there were in those—or in Kosovo, where we fired 2,168? How much more land remains to be decontaminated and why are we surprised if the farmers of those fields do not regard us as their saviours and friends?

What matters these days is not what wars you fight, but how you fight them. These weapons make enemies of the very people whom we most need as friends. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall—Field Marshall Lord Bramall—said:

“If you liberally employ munitions that were designed for entirely different circumstances but which under modern conditions of conflict are more notable for the appalling and abiding legacy of death and mutilation that they provide for our own follow-up troops and even more the countless innocent civilians in the area, you would be making substantial inroads into any moral high ground and greatly weaken the chances of achieving your all-important political aim”.

That says it all. We are using weapons that create more enemies than they kill. I ask your Lordships to send to the conference next week at Lima, to which I shall go, a firm message embracing whatever the noble Lord says at the end of this debate, because this is a human catastrophe that we can avoid. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for this opportunity to continue the debate that took place on the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Dubs on 15 December, and in particular to indicate our support for what I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will tell us will be the Government’s message to the world at Lima. I congratulate my noble friend on the work that he has done in these negotiations already.

In the limited time available to us, I beg your Lordships’ indulgence to deal with one issue that arose out of that debate. Of course we would all like to see Lima lead to a convention, but in the December debate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised the question of whether cluster bombs are unlawful already. In that debate, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Coventry and the Bishop of Salisbury pointed out that, even if the use of cluster bombs is said to be lawful, it does not follow that to use them is morally right. When I was young—long, long ago—we often heard the expression, “They can’t touch you for it”. It became a one-liner that was used by comedians again and again. It exposed the excuse that, provided that an action was not unlawful, it did not matter that it was dishonest, selfish or cruel. The lawfulness or otherwise of using cluster bombs does not foreclose the debate.

I beg a few moments of your Lordships’ time to examine the Government’s assurance that the use of these weapons is lawful. In the December debate, my noble friend Lady Crawley, no doubt on departmental advice, said that,

“cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in compliance with international humanitarian law”.—[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1764.]

It would be wrong to let that assurance pass without a moment’s examination. There are international agreements and conventions to protect civilians, going back to the St Petersburg declaration of 1868, the Geneva Convention and The Hague regulations of 1907. Admittedly, the protection that they offer is limited. However, international humanitarian law includes customary law, and customary international law is a living body of doctrine that can develop with changing situations. It has developed as the nature of warfare itself has changed.

When engagements were on an open battlefield, troops employing firearms had no difficulty in targeting combatants because they knew that the cavalry bearing down on them were combatants. It was very unlikely that a civilian would be found within range. To injure civilians, you had to set out deliberately on an expedition away from the battlefield. More recently, as we were reminded in the December debate, and as we have read in the book by Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force, the nature of warfare has changed. It normally takes place now not in deserted countryside, but in towns, among houses and concert halls, and in thoroughfares and side streets.

It is very difficult to guarantee hitting an object of your choice without a serious risk of causing what is sometimes euphemistically called “collateral damage”, particularly when the weapons are frequently delivered from aircraft, as happened in Kosovo. If to that you add scattering your bomblets over a wide and ill defined area and you extend their lethal effects over a substantial period, and even if we accept that the M85 weapons have a failure rate of some 1 per cent—which your Lordships may not accept—a massive number of civilians will be at serious risk of death or fearful injuries, with unexploded weapons waiting to inflict mayhem in the weeks and months ahead. In those circumstances, the use of a weapon that cannot be targeted and which scatters destruction over a wide area cannot avoid a serious risk of inflicting disproportionate casualties on civilians.

The principles of international law that are applicable to that situation were established by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion of 1996 on the legality of using nuclear weapons. The court declared, first, that a clear body of international humanitarian law is now independent of specific treaty or convention obligations. States do not have unlimited freedom of choice as to the weapons that they use. Secondly, the court stated that humanitarian law establishes a clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and that states cannot lawfully employ weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between those categories. Thirdly, the court said that those principles apply to new weapons in the same way as they do to pre-existing ones.

The court considered the argument that nuclear weapons could never be used in accordance with those principles, but it held, by seven votes to seven, on the casting vote of the president, that it could not conclude definitively that nuclear weapons could never be used lawfully in any circumstances. However, the court declared that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of humanitarian law. I see no distinction in that reasoning between nuclear weapons, which can rarely, if ever, be used without the risk of inflicting major casualties on the civilian population, and cluster bombs.

I do not dissent from the formulation of my noble friend Lady Crawley that cluster bombs are lawful when they are used in compliance with international humanitarian law, but the caveat is that, like nuclear weapons, they can rarely, if ever, be used in compliance with international humanitarian law. It is like giving planning permission for a swimming pool but specifying that people can only use it if they do not get wet. Even leaving aside the need for a convention specifically related to cluster bombs, it is virtually impossible to argue convincingly that their use does not infringe international humanitarian law. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench can assure us that the Government will look at that again. But of course it would be better to conclude a specific convention, so that everyone can see plainly to what they are pledging themselves.

In the December debate, there were a number of references to Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. My noble friend Lady Crawley announced that the Government intended to accede to it at the earliest opportunity, but I have not been able to trace an announcement that they have done so. Can my noble friend say whether the United Kingdom has now acceded and, if not, what is the difficulty? However, Protocol V relates to the obligations, after the conflict, of those who have used these weapons. What is needed is an obligation on states not to employ these weapons in the first instance. We hope that the UK delegations will play leading roles in Lima and in future gatherings. I wish them well.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for bringing his account of the Oslo conference to our attention, and for bringing to our attention the uncomfortable, troubling and disturbing facts behind it. I speak today as a lay person on this subject. I speak as one who has been confronted by stories of human lives brought to an end; of children and adults indiscriminately maimed; of land contaminated and unavailable for agriculture or development; and of unimaginable and interminable risks to innocent non-combatants being visited upon sizeable populations of people in Kosovo, in Serbia and Montenegro, in Lebanon, in Iraq and elsewhere. I speak as one deeply troubled that the United Kingdom military is using these M85 weapons in my name. I speak as one who cannot accept the Secretary of State’s claim that:

“The types of cluster munitions we intend to retain are legitimate weapons with significant military value which, as a result of mitigating features, is not outweighed by humanitarian factors”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

I cannot accept that statement because I cannot understand what, in the mind of the Secretary of State, legitimates the use of these weapons. Are they legitimated by international law or convention, and does that offer comfort or consolation to the victims—many of them children—who have not been consulted about the legitimacy of dropping these weapons on their communities?

I cannot understand either the significant military value of these weapons in the kind of conflicts in which our Armed Forces are likely to be engaged in the foreseeable future. I cannot accept that the so-called mitigating features—presumably referring to the self destruct mechanism so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—help to legitimise the use of these weapons. The evidence appears to be robust—even overwhelming—that the self-destruct mechanisms are unreliable; that the tests used to evaluate the performance of the weapons are undertaken only in ideal conditions, which do not replicate actual combat conditions; and that the United Kingdom has made no effort to assess the performance of these munitions in combat.

Furthermore, I cannot accept that this argument outweighs what the Secretary of State refers to as the “humanitarian factors”. Can he be referring to the old man in Kosovo who desperately tried to escape as the sky rained down bomblets and blew him and his neighbours to pieces? Can he be referring to the victims who had holes twice the size of a man’s fist blown in their torsos? Can he be referring to children playing innocently in Kosovo who were punished with multiple amputations for their temerity? Can he be referring to the population of Basra, who had 98,000 of these weapons rained on them during the invasion of Iraq? Are these “humanitarian factors” another way of speaking of our brothers and sisters who pay the price for these weapons in their mutilated bodies? They receive no medals; they are not treated as war heroes; they do not have the benefit of military hospitals, but languish for a lifetime of regret that the “mitigating features” failed to work in their case.

The document Fatal Footprint seeks to clarify the impact of these munitions on the lives of people in 23 countries and areas not internationally recognised, which are confirmed to be affected by cluster munitions. This is the first comprehensive study systematically analysing the impact of these weapons on civilian populations through casualty data. As noble Lords may be aware, it concludes that 98 per cent of casualties are civilian; that these munitions are more fatal and involve more injuries than mines or other explosive remnants of war. Not only are civilians most at risk, but the vast majority of civilian casualties occur when people are carrying on their normal daily livelihood activities in their usual and accustomed places.

Further, it is clear from experiences in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq and Vietnam that extensive cluster munitions use generally poses a volatile and generational threat to civilians where clearance efforts are delayed.

It is commonplace these days for all of us to complain that we live in a culture dominated by the requirements of health and safety. Indeed, we live in something of a schizoid culture, in which on the one hand we want to avoid every possible risk to life and limb for ourselves, however small, even often at great personal inconvenience. On the other hand, we are ready to pretend to each other that the risks visited on entirely innocent populations by our own military are somehow acceptable. I speak as a lay person, as I said. I defer to noble and gallant Lords in their greatly superior military, technical and diplomatic expertise in these matters. But I cannot find it possible to come to terms with the argument that these weapons are legitimated militarily, morally or on any other grounds.

In the Christian calendar, today is the feast day of the Ascension of Christ. For those of us in the Christian tradition, it is a day in which our Lord’s kingship over all human affairs, relations and conflicts is celebrated. It is a day on which we are reminded that human beings are to behave towards each other as children of the same heavenly father. It is a day to repent of these weapons, and a day to press on the Government’s representatives as they prepare to go to Lima that we wish them to be in no doubt whatever that, in the view of this House, these weapons are wholly unacceptable.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate and for his part in the campaign against these dreadful weapons; I was with him in Oslo. I also thank Landmine Action and Norwegian People’s Aid, which have both been extremely active in providing information and campaigning against these weapons. Pressure clearly works as far as the Government are concerned. I welcome the statement of the Secretary of State, Des Browne—surely encouraged by my noble friend on the Front Bench—that the Government should move on this. If pressure works, then more pressure will clearly go on working, which is why we are here today.

We know the case against cluster bombs and munitions. It is similar to the case against anti-personnel landmines: they are a danger to innocent civilians months and years after the conflict. Children playing, farmers working, people collecting firewood, tending livestock or fetching water: all these most innocent of activities are liable to lead to a loss of limb or life in areas where these weapons are being used. The second argument is that they are relatively indiscriminate weapons when used during a conflict. These days, there are seldom targets with no civilians around. I have seen films, shown at Oslo, where civilians in Serbian streets and towns were maimed as a result of cluster bomblets descending upon them.

We must help to ensure that existing cluster bomblets are cleared. To do that, we must know more about where they have landed. At the Oslo conference, we learnt that in Serbia, where NATO had used cluster bombs, it had not provided the Serbian clearance teams with the co-ordinates of where they had been targeted. Similarly, the Lebanese clearance teams have not been able to obtain the co-ordinates of the Israeli cluster munitions used in the recent conflict in Lebanon. All we can do is ask the Government to press Israel to provide this information on humanitarian grounds. I urge my noble friend to ensure that this happens, a simple step which can be taken. A further tragedy of the recent Lebanon conflict is that both sides used these weapons. Their use by Hezbollah is the first time that a non-governmental organisation has deployed them. All of this strengthens the case for banning them.

On Serbia, I recently asked a question in the House and my noble friend Lady Amos wrote to me with further information on 15 May:

“I can confirm that NATO is coordinating Alliance data from Operation Allied Force 1999 and will, in due course, hand over this information to the Government of Serbia. You will appreciate that, because the operation was a NATO campaign, the coordination of this data is a complex process and has yet to be completed. But I can confirm that UK data has been collated by the Ministry of Defence and has been passed to NATO”.

We are talking about 1999, and this is 2007.

NATO is supposed to be a modern, effective organisation, and our motives in the war in Serbia were surely humanitarian. In Oslo, I talked to a man who had lost both legs trying to clear bombs in Serbia, and he emphasised the difficulties. I cannot for the life of me see why NATO cannot get a move on rather than waiting eight years before it is almost ready to provide information that was surely available the moment the cluster bombs were launched.

I shall turn briefly to the argument about smart and dumb cluster munitions, which has already been mentioned, and whether smart bombs are smart enough. It is, of course, a welcome change on the part of the UK Government, but it still means that M85 sub-munitions will be used. The Government have given us various figures—I am not sure which are the authoritative figures—but my right honourable friend Adam Ingram in answer to Questions between 2003 and 2006 mentioned a maximum failure rate of 2 per cent, a failure rate of 1 per cent and a 95 per cent success rate with M85s. I am not sure what a 95 per cent success rate means, unless it means that 5 per cent of them failed. Given the number that have been used in, say, the Lebanon, that represents a large number of people. The tests that have been used to establish the failure rates are undertaken in ideal conditions. They do not take account of different ground surfaces, soft ground or the effect of buildings or trees. We do not yet have the accurate information to allow us to say that smart weapons are smart enough, and, as has already been said, if the self-destruct mechanism does not work, it poses an even greater danger to the brave individuals putting their lives at risk to clear these weapons. They sometimes suffer appalling injuries or die. I have been invited to visit the Lebanon within the next few weeks to see the clearance work on the ground and the effect of the use of such weapons, and I am sorry that I was not able to go before this debate.

My last point is about whether there is any real military justification for these weapons. I am not an expert; I am a lay person. However, I have talked to a lot of people who are experts, some of whom are Members of this House. I think the case for having these weapons is pretty weak. It may have been valid years ago when we were faced with the prospect of large Soviet armies with thousands of men concentrated in small areas, but that is not the nature of the conflict that we now face. I would like better military justification before the Government go ahead and say that smart bombs will continue to be used.

I shall conclude with four brief points. First, we need international agreement. Even if the British Government do what we ask them to do, other countries are still using these weapons, so an international agreement is crucial and I hope that significant progress will be made at the forthcoming conference in Peru. Secondly, we need to ensure that, in all areas where cluster munitions and cluster bombs are being used, proper information is provided about the co-ordinates. Thirdly, all possible help must be given to those countries to enable the weapons to be cleared. Finally, we still need to admit that smart weapons are dangerously dumb.

My Lords, I join in the expressions of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Elton for having chosen this subject for his balloted debate. I also express my diffidence at following the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who knows much more about this subject than I do, having campaigned with great distinction in this field for so long.

I begin with the general reflection that modern war is such a horrible manifestation of evil that, if we adopt rules to regulate its conduct, it can seem almost as though we are improperly treating it as some kind of game. The laws of cricket may forbid aiming the ball at a batsman as a missile but they still legitimise bowling that produces a bumper with equal lethal potential. That may count as cricket—one should remember that Sir John Major’s recent book is called More Than a Game—but in regulating war, that kind of nice distinction seems rather out of place. We are so far short of having beaten into ploughshares all swords that we have to do what is practical, by piecemeal rules if necessary, to diminish, at least, the horrors of war. Quite good progress has been made. International law has established norms, recited in the debate on this subject in December, on which specific prohibitions have been built over quite a long time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, in that debate reminded us that:

“The use of any weapon must be: discriminate, proportionate … [and] necessary; and only military objectives may be attacked”.

She added that an attack can take place,

“only when consequences for civilians would not be random or excessive”—

a rather question-begging adjective—

“in relation to the military advantage”.—[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1764.]

These criteria are conceptual; the rub comes when you try to determine whether a particular military proposal is compliant. In principle this is a matter of law but more immediately it is one of political will.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, has opened a very interesting discussion on the legality of the use of these weapons. More immediately, the question of use will be decided by political will. Luckily, consensual, political will has shown itself capable of evolving; it does not need to stand still and it tends not to do so for long.

In this context, the thrust of my noble friend Lord Elton’s argument seems to have the great advantage of being intended to benefit primarily civilians, especially their children, who have the misfortune to live and to try to exist where combatants have chosen to indulge their belligerence.

At the very least everyone can agree that children cannot carry any responsibility for war. Yet it is clear from the evidence from recent conflicts all over the world that children have quite disproportionately suffered the consequences of the use of cluster munitions. The reason, so eloquently explained to us, is because they often do not explode; they lie about on the surface. They constitute enticing souvenirs or at least objects of childish curiosity. When picked up they often go off and are so small that they are easily missed in clear-up operations.

None of that is news. We have known about it for a long time. It has been recognised by the nations—I have to admit that I learnt about this only recently—participating in the Oslo conference that have signed up or are prepared to sign up to the treaty we have been told about. Those nations have grown impatient at the lack of progress in the United Nations. Our country is now seeking to exempt from the treaty weapons fitted with a self-destruct device, designed to operate if they do not go off on impact. That has been explained to us with remarkable technical expertise by my noble friend Lord Elton.

It is argued on our behalf that the self-destruct device satisfactorily deals with the problem, with the consequence that weapons can legitimately remain available to our Armed Forces—legitimate in our own consciences. The contrary seems to be the case. The weapon in question is the M85. Since 2002, questions have been asked of the Armed Forces Minister in the other place about the failure rate of this self-destruct device. The answers began in 2003 by citing 2 per cent but by the end of 2006 the figure had grown to 5 per cent. What is today’s estimate? I hope that the Minister can give us the answer.

The M85s we use are purchased from the Israelis. The UN Mine Action Coordinating Centre in south Lebanon estimates that “about 4 million” sub-munitions were dropped there by the Israelis, and it would seem that perhaps as many as 200,000 of these unexploded missiles have been left lying about.

These weapons would have to be capable of producing some enormous military advantage to justify exposing children and other non-combatants to risks on this scale. It would have to be an advantage of a clear war-winning character. But we all know now, or we should do, that it is too soon to cast the balance sheet of wars once the last shot has been fired. That sometimes can prove to be just the end of the beginning. Hearts and minds have to be secured, and I find it hard to imagine an aftermath—short of permanently poisoning their land, for example—more inimical to winning people's hearts and minds than leaving the areas where they live sprinkled with unexploded bomblets.

We already know that the Israelis themselves reckon their campaign in south Lebanon to have been a failure. We have now heard of distinguished and very senior military voices disavowing any net advantage from the use of such weapons. I very much hope that we shall hear that, at the forthcoming conference in Lima, the Government will drop their policy of seeking to exempt the M85 and sign up to the Oslo treaty accordingly.

My Lords, the timeliness of this debate can hardly be questioned. Both the need for and the possibility of banning cluster munitions by international law have moved sharply up the agenda. We are on the eve of the next in a series of international meetings designed to muster support for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument by next year. Those are the words of the communiqué issued after the most recent such meeting in Oslo in February. It would be good if this House, through today's debate, were to send the strongest possible message of backing to the conference in Lima.

We should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has initiated today's debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose Private Member's Bill pointed the way forward, for the example that is being set and the work that is being done. As the chair of the United Nations Association of United Kingdom, I declare an interest, because my organisation is taking part in that campaign.

It is only fair at the outset to commend the Government's role in this matter during the past three months. Until then, like many other Governments, they still tended to fend off the pressure to ban such munitions but at Oslo they shifted the British position significantly. I pay tribute to the Minister's role in bringing about that shift. Since that meeting, by announcing their intention not to use what are called dumb cluster munitions—those which do not self-destruct—the Government have set an example for other countries which, it must be hoped, will be followed. Having gained the initiative in that way, they need to keep it, not get lost in a rearguard action to protect the use of what are, in a rather Orwellian phrase, known as smart munitions. It would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government intend to proceed.

Cluster munitions are only one of the more recent in a long line of developments in military technology that made the 20th century unprecedented in world history for the multiplication of the killing power of weapons. Like many other of those developments, they can impact disastrously on civilian populations and have done so. That was seen in Lebanon last summer and previously in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Vietnam. That list is not exhaustive.

As warfare changes from high-intensity clashes between the armed forces of sovereign states to what General Sir Rupert Smith has called “war among the peoples”, the risk—indeed, the certainty—of increased civilian casualties for the use of such munitions can only continue to grow. That prospect is surely unacceptable to any country, such as ours, which is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions. Other noble Lords, much more knowledgeable than I on matters legal, have referred to those conventions. They prescribe proportionality: attacks must balance military advantage with civilian impact. They prescribe distinction: attacks must distinguish between military and civilian objects. They prohibit indiscriminate attacks. They require feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury. It is frankly not easy to see how a number of recent uses of such munitions can be said to have met any of those criteria. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

Appalling though the record of the 20th century was in the development of lethal technologies, it was not without some achievements in banning them. That should encourage those campaigning for a ban on cluster munitions. Poison gas was banned after the horrors of the First World War, and all forms of chemical weapons were banned at the end of the century, as were biological weapons; so, more recently, were landmines. Moreover, moves to ban categories of weapons or munitions have proved to be particularly successful when the humanitarian and legal arguments against them were matched by the utilitarian doubts of military practitioners about their usefulness on the battlefield. That is precisely what is now happening with cluster munitions. Others with much more experience than I have of the military arguments will speak later in the debate and will provide solid evidence of the narrowing of that gap. That should give the campaign even greater encouragement and credibility.

It is clear, of course, that the campaign will be faced with the all too familiar “half a loaf or no bread” arguments. These will come in two forms. The first, as has already been noted, is the distinction between dumb and smart cluster munitions. No doubt attempts will be made to limit any ban to the former. I question whether that distinction holds water, particularly given the evidence of the dumbness even of smart munitions and the changing nature of warfare towards wars among the peoples. The second will be the quandary of whether to proceed even if some perhaps militarily very important countries refuse to sign up to any international legal instrument. I trust that we will not abandon or seek to undermine the objective of a ban on all cluster munitions without exception, even if it may prove necessary to proceed in stages, with dumb munitions being banned first. We really must not accept that smart cluster munitions are somehow okay. I am sure we will have to accept less than global membership in the early stages of any ban, as we have in the ban on landmines, but there must be plenty of naming and shaming and of compelling the recalcitrants to explain and defend their position; we must not simply allow them to get away with it as unavoidable.

In our debate on Trident renewal a few months ago, I asked the Government to give us an overall picture of British policies on arms control and disarmament. What we have at the moment is a thing of shreds and patches: a little arms trade treaty here, a little nuclear non-proliferation there and a step forward now on cluster munitions. We lack an overall view and a broad strategy for achieving our objectives. What are we doing to get the whole European Union to sign up to those objectives? What are we doing to get the European Union to throw its not inconsiderable weight in international negotiations behind them? How much use are we making of our relationship with the United States, which, under the present Administration, is often the back marker on these matters? Are we and the European Union beginning to establish a dialogue in these fields with China, which looks set fair to be an awkward customer in the future? Our debate today needs to be part of a mosaic, not just a one-off episode.

My Lords, I cannot say how welcome the debate is, and my thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing it. I, too, thank the Government for having withdrawn most of the cluster munitions held by the Ministry of Defence, and for their support for the beginnings of what seems to be an unstoppable international movement to ban cluster munitions altogether.

The immediate and longer-term destructive consequences of cluster munitions have been well aired in your Lordships’ House. I shall focus briefly today on the inherent contradiction between military and humanitarian or development action, with some reference to Afghanistan. That country is still littered with unexploded ordnance from more than a quarter of a century of war. Before the efforts to liberate Afghanistan in 2001, it was estimated that about 724 million square metres were affected by unexploded landmines, with 344 million square metres classified as high priority land for clearance. At the same time, the military, including UK forces, have been involved in reconstruction through the provincial reconstruction teams and hearts-and-minds programmes.

Cluster bombs, more than any other kind of armament, are designed to harm individuals and to create no-go areas, which may be, and often are, agricultural lands in areas populated by civilians. In the past decade, the UK and other NATO countries have further blurred the distinction between military and humanitarian action. The two approaches may be incompatible and cluster munitions play a significant role in this ambiguity.

The efforts to protect people from violent threat, such as that posed by the Taliban, are an essential part of the Armed Forces’ task in Afghanistan and thus incorporate a shared agenda from both humanitarian and military actors, which is a subject of much debate, especially within the UN. There are arguments on both sides. There are the integrationists, who favour less duplication of effort and better informed and more strategic approaches to operations, and those who believe that an integrated approach subordinates humanitarian principles to the political and/or military priorities of a mission. Insufficient research on the humanitarian outcomes of each approach means that the jury remains out on this issue. However, the need to agree on cores issues of responsibility and competence remains. Whatever methods are proven to be more effective, there is no possible advantage that the use of cluster bombs will bring to crises such as that in Afghanistan.

If one of the main military objectives in a given conflict is to win the confidence of villagers in order to dissuade them from supporting and/or joining insurgents, this cannot be achieved if at the same time armed forces are maiming and killing civilians with cluster bombs and reducing access to fields and vital planting seasons. Anything achieved in terms of medical attention, rebuilding of schools and other development work is immediately undermined. Similarly, provincial reconstruction teams now working in many areas of Afghanistan, no matter how successful in the reconstruction aspects of their work, will negate any advances if cluster munitions are further deployed or remain uncleared. In a recent survey cited in a report by the ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group, rural Afghans define security not just as the cessation of armed attacks but as being free of physical violence or threat of attack and having access to essential services such as healthcare, education and economic opportunities.

If it is agreed that one of the key roles of the military is the protection of civilians from deliberate harm, cluster munitions should be immediately outlawed—there is no question about that. If it is also acknowledged from experience the world over that the most effective weapon against terrorism or insurgency is intelligence, which is usually gained from local populations, one could say that the use of cluster bombs severely reduces the chances of any such co-operation. I am still struck by the words of President Bush at the start of the 2001 war to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in what our Prime Minister subsequently referred to as a “military-humanitarian coalition”. President Bush said:

“As we strike military targets, we'll also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan”,

so that the world would,

“know the generosity of America and our allies”.

The subsequent blowing up of clearly identified food warehouses by insurgents demonstrates that the provision of aid was perceived as neither neutral nor humanitarian.

Finally, it must be said that the failure to clear those 28 countries in the world which have had or still have millions of unexploded ordnance is in the eyes of experts such as the HALO Trust director, Guy Willoughby, more due to a lack of political will than to financial or technical constraints. It is pointed out that following World War II a landmine programme cleared millions of landmines by 1950 despite scarce technical resources and far less understanding of the technical issues involved. Today, it has taken 10 years to clear a much smaller number of mines in countries, including Croatia, Bosnia, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia and Vietnam. The movement towards an outright ban on cluster munitions must be achieved, as must clearance programmes which should be given the highest priority.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate. I have long been opposed to the use of cluster bombs. I can recall that before the start of the Iraq war when it was clear that the Government intended to go ahead with the proposed invasion, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made a plea that there should be a commitment from the Government that they would not use cluster bombs. I supported him, but the Government refused to make any such commitment. Whenever the issue has been raised, the answer has been given that for a variety of reasons a ban was simply not possible. One reason given was that they were needed as protection for our troops; another was that, otherwise, it would be necessary to use much more destructive high-explosive bombs. It was also claimed that they were used in a lawful way.

It is now gratifying to learn that the Government are changing their stance. UN conferences have been discussing a ban on cluster weapons for more than five years, without making any progress. But now, as we have heard, at a conference sponsored by the Norwegians in Oslo last February, it appears that our Government have subscribed to a declaration of intent to establish a ban in 2008 of,

“cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians”.

Of course, that is a very welcome development, although any damage to civilians should be regarded as unacceptable. It is not before time.

As is well known, these anti-personnel weapons are designed to kill and injure people. It cannot honestly be claimed for them, particularly nowadays, that they have a genuine, military purpose. As noble Lords have pointed out, the type of conflicts we are involved in now are quite different from those that took place many years ago. The bombs contain many small submunitions which are designed to explode on impact. They have a high failure rate and remain as a continuing danger to people, often long after hostilities have ceased. They were used in Vietnam and continued to cause deaths and injuries long after the war there had ended. The same is true in the Balkans, where they were used in the war over Kosovo. It could not be claimed there that it was necessary to use them to protect our troops since the war was fought entirely from the air with continuous bombing raids. No ground troops were used in the operation.

The town of Nis suffered particularly from cluster bombing and a number of civilians were killed and injured, and there were no military objectives there. These munitions have also been used in Iraq, as we have heard, and by Israel in Lebanon. Children are particularly at risk. Small submunitions are often brightly coloured and children playing are attracted to them. In that way, many children have had limbs blown off and other horrible injuries. Moreover, when hostilities are over and the civilian population wants to try to return to normal life, they are often unable to farm their land because of the dangers still posed by these munitions. Incidentally, what has been done to look after the victims of those attacks? What compensation have they had? We must remember that very often the victims in these conflicts are poor people in poor countries. What is done to help them when the conflicts are over?

There now appears to be a real opportunity to get these munitions banned. Our Government seem to have changed their position, although I believe they still want to be able to retain cluster weapons of a more recent type, with a self-destruct device intended to destroy them if they are not exploded on impact. These are smart CM weapons as opposed to dumb ones. I have always been very sceptical of claims about weapons being smart and, therefore, not causing injuries to civilians. I well remember my late husband, who had been an RAF pilot, and I watching a conflict on television. He said, “Smart bombs, smart bombs, don’t you believe it. We are watching people being killed down there”, and so we were. All these weapons should be banned.

There is a further meeting in Lima on 22 May when the intention is to try to draw more countries into supporting a complete ban. I thank the Government for what they have done so far, but they must go further and see that there is a complete ban on these weapons. I ask the Government to do everything that they can to encourage other countries to follow their example. I thank, again, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on having secured this timely debate. I also congratulate the Government on the action that they have taken so far. I want to take part in this debate, not because I have any technical or expert knowledge of the weaponry, but simply because of the lessons that I learnt some years ago when I had the privilege of preceding the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, as president of UNICEF UK. Those were the years in which the world had almost accepted the inevitability of death and injury for adults and, particularly, children who had the misfortune to live in or on the perimeter of battle zones around the world. Even long after those wars were over, abandoned minefields were allowed to remain as though nothing could or should be done about them. The campaigns against landmines culminated in the 1997 treaty, which sought to ban, or at least to control, them. The treaty now has the backing of no fewer than 153 countries. If that treaty was desirable, as indeed it was, it is clear that similar action against cluster bombs is even more necessary.

It is obviously so for at least two reasons. First, conventional landmines can at least plausibly be described as defensive weapons when laid out in carefully located “fields” to prevent an enemy attack from that direction. Secondly, because of their purpose, landmines are much more easily located, avoided and removed. On the other hand, cluster bombs are exactly the opposite. They are designed for use in attacks, and although intended for the equivalent of military convoys, they can be and are scattered at random over wide and unspecified areas. Each bomb then scatters its own shower of what are usually hundreds of bomblets in an even more random fashion. As we have heard, one bomb can scatter widely enough to cover an area equivalent to two, three or even four football pitches. The case for eliminating these horrific weapons really makes itself—to such an extent that our own Government have at last accepted it. They are the first Government to have done so. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on the considerable part he has played in bringing this about with his Private Member’s Bill and much more since then.

Last week I was in Scotland, helping to award this year’s St Andrews University environmental prize. A fellow trustee, Anita McNaught, is a young freelance journalist who recently went to south Lebanon to make a programme about cluster munitions for CNN. The DVD of her interviews with disposal experts and people injured by these lethal weapons was all too explicit. The life of a young motor mechanic has been ruined after, among other injuries, half of his hand was blown off so that he can no longer continue in any form of work. There is an account of a young woman whose father brought a munition into their house. She picked it up, whereupon it detonated and injured three other members of the family in the same room. Somehow they survived and there is some hope, but one really wonders about the futures they face. Apparently something like a quarter of all the agricultural land is out of production, but still of course producing victims in the form of children for all the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others.

Thankfully, a huge international co-operative operation is under way, which hopes to make the land safe by the end of this year. We must hope that the effort succeeds. Indeed, the only good thing I could find in the whole scene in southern Lebanon is that some young Lebanese women, unable to find employment elsewhere, have become trained disposal experts. Apparently it is quite a well paid job, and one hopes that it may prove useful for any future educative programme the country may hope to run, both for itself and perhaps for other countries.

How the bombing in Lebanon could have been anything other than a quite cynical operation on the part of Israel—the raids taking place as they did during the final week of the peace negotiations—really is hard to believe. But the fact is that it did take place, and of course it is not just Israel. Sadly, many countries have used cluster munitions when they felt that it would be to their advantage against the enemy.

All this illustrates the importance of facing up to the whole situation and banning these weapons once and for all. We have heard the good news that earlier this year the UK Government committed themselves at the Oslo conference,

“to complete by 2008 a legally binding international instrument to ban cluster bombs”.

Her Majesty’s Government have already banned two of their three cluster munitions, but apparently not the M85. I could not put the case against the position more clearly than it has been put by Handicap International, which has stated that the Government have retained the M85, a rocket-launched submunition, on the grounds that it is smart due to its self-destruct device. It is manufactured by IMI, an Israeli company, which claims that it has a 0.06 “hazardous dud rate”. Handicap International works in Lebanon clearing mines and munitions in the region and can testify that this claim is dangerous nonsense. Israeli forces used the M85 in huge numbers just before withdrawing from Lebanon. Failure rates were huge and wide areas have been left with deadly unexploded submunitions.

This munition is the “exception” which the UK Government currently plan to retain in their armoury on the basis that it is smart. I want to quote what was said to me by Rae McGrath of Handicap International. He said:

“I will gladly take the Minister to Lebanon to show him just how smart it is”.

If the Minister has any remaining doubts at all about the proper way forward, I hope very much that he will indeed take up that offer.

It is for these reasons that I join the noble Lord, Lord Elton and others, many of whom have spoken passionately about this issue, in pressing the Government to go as far as they possibly can—in other words, the whole way. They must take the positive position they adopted in Oslo to the Lima meeting next week and make a clear commitment to an across-the-board ban on the production, transfer or use of all cluster munitions, without any exception in favour of so-called smart versions.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate. I had intended to speak briefly, having spoken at perhaps too great length recently on another issue, but having heard the speeches made so far in the debate, I think that I can be even briefer. If I were to go through all my prepared remarks, I would simply be repeating what has already been said with more eloquence and greater expertise.

But I want to underline the importance and timeliness of the debate. It is important because it will maintain the focus of the House on the issue and ensure that it is not just put to bed with the passage of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. It is timely in view of the imminence of the next stage of the Oslo process in Lima next week. I also welcome the extent of the Government’s move forward, and I shall use my remarks to focus attention on the residual issues remaining around the retention of smart bombs such as the M85.

However, my main purpose in speaking is simply to align myself with the widespread call in this House for a total ban. The case has been made fully, but I was not able to be present in the Chamber when the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was debated, so I felt it important to be here today to add my voice in support of a total ban. Of course, my voice is neither here nor there, but I speak from a particular vantage point which may give some significance to my adding that voice. As someone active in the worldwide movement of disabled and especially blind people, I am all too well aware of the devastating impact that these weapons can have, often on the lives of innocent civilians and far too often on children, so I hope that my support can be taken as read. As I said, I was not able to be here to voice it before but I wanted to make it clear that I was doing so today. My point is so uncontentious that I hope that I can say it on behalf of all disabled people throughout the world.

As a member of the Council of St Dunstan’s, I would never wish to see our troops’ ability to defend themselves or to fulfil their lawful mission impaired. However, we all recognise that the use of cluster munitions even in a just war ensures that that war will be followed by a second war, a war against unexploded ordnance, which maims as much as it kills and thus imposes a lifelong burden of care on victims and their families. Enabling disabled people to continue to lead fulfilling lives is a challenge in this country with its relatively advanced health care and disability rights; in some of the countries in which we have used cluster munitions, it must be very hard indeed. Most of the participants in this second war are non-combatants and, as I have said, most of its victims are civilians, far too many of them children. The fact that Hezbollah, a non-state actor, has possession of these weapons and has already begun to deploy them means that it is urgent that we act now, without further delay, to get rid of these weapons for good and all and preclude further proliferation while we still can.

I do not have the expertise to judge whether there is a real military justification for this country’s continued possession of any kind of cluster munitions. However, it is significant that a number of military experts have questioned the continuing value of these weapons, smart or dumb. It is therefore imperative for the Government to reconsider whether the Oslo declaration should be restricted to dumb munitions. In particular, does the Minister agree that maintaining the distinction between so-called dumb and smart munitions will make monitoring compliance with any international agreement much harder than monitoring a straightforward ban on all cluster munitions?

During the Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked the Minister a number of questions. She asked whether the UK Government have undertaken practical assessments of the human impact of cluster munitions when used in a combat situation and whether they have gathered field data on cluster bombs. I am not aware that we have had answers to these questions, but it behoves the Government to come up with answers rapidly if they want their optimistic claims as to failure rates to be believed or if they wish to go on defending the use of these horrific weapons in any circumstances at all.

Will the Minister therefore give serious consideration to establishing a rigorous, verifiable test of the reliability of submunitions’ self-destruction mechanisms? If he does not feel able to go all the way to signing up to a total ban in Lima, will he undertake to institute reliable trials of the kind that I have mentioned? Will the Government then commit to rejecting any cluster munitions system that cannot achieve, say, a 1 per cent failure rate in realistic tests?

In concluding, I simply repeat my appreciation of the ongoing efforts of the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Elton, to secure the final elimination of these dreadful weapons, which we all wish to see, and my hopes for a successful second stage of the Oslo talks in Lima next week.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on obtaining this important and timely debate. I also associate myself with the tributes that have quite rightly been paid not only to him for his persistence in this matter, but also to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the Minister in the Oslo meeting. I am delighted to be able to do that.

In view of the admirable and wide-ranging comments that have been made throughout the debate, I wondered what I could add. Perhaps I may add my views, first, as a former military commander who had experience in the Cold War of planning for the deployment of cluster munitions in military situations and, secondly, as a member of a private security company that was responsible for mine clearing in many parts of the world.

I refer first to my military experience and the employment of these weapons as military weapons for military purposes. They were there for two purposes, one of which was runway denial, as practised by the Royal Air Force. This involved larger weapons, which proved to be fairly unsuccessful when eventually deployed in the first Gulf War.

From a military point of view the weapons were there for two main reasons. First, we required something to help us to break up any massed armour attack, and the top attack weapon of cluster munitions, particularly depleted uranium ones, was, we thought, one very promising way to help us to destroy masses of armour. Secondly, these weapons provided an ability to deploy, as it were, instant minefields to prevent mass movements coming against us. But, as I described in the December debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, when I was made responsible for planning counter-attacks against Russian armour through ground over which we had deployed these weapons, I began to think twice about them, because they were quite as likely to cause casualties and impede our movement as they were to affect that of the opponent.

It was at that stage that the Cold War ended. As far as I am concerned, when the Cold War ended, the use of these weapons against that kind of opposition also ended. I cannot for the life of me foresee any nation building up the kind of forces against which these weapons were designed to be deployed.

However, we have retained these weapons and we have used them. To my mind, where we have deployed them, we have used them completely unnecessarily, with no military justification at all. I was interested that the validity of the Statement of the Secretary of State was questioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Secretary of State said:

“The types of cluster munitions that we intend to retain are legitimate weapons with significant military value which, as a result of mitigating features, is not outweighed by humanitarian factors”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

The first part of that can indeed be stated in military terms, but I do not believe that the second part can be justified. If he is saying that we intend to retain legitimate weapons with significant military value, surely it would have been more proper for him to then qualify and say what that military value was and for what military purposes they were justified. But he has not.

Many noble Lords have said, with great eloquence and great expertise, that what we are now using—the M85 weapon fired from a 155 gun—has an appalling record of failure. The evidence of what has been happening in the Lebanon and what happened when we deployed these weapons proves that the figures claimed are not correct. I do not know whether those figures were produced in ideal circumstances, in a laboratory or on ground on which figures could be measured, but the deployment shows that they are not right.

Attention has also been drawn, quite rightly, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and others, to the fact that the nature of warfare has changed. Many noble Lords have mentioned the admirable description of General Sir Rupert Smith of war among the people. You do not deploy mass, indiscriminate weapons when civilians are likely to be casualties, not only because it is not a humanitarian thing to do but because it is an intensely stupid thing to do in relation to whatever use of military force there is.

As I tried to explain in December, the use of military force is much more politically directed now, and there must be a political end to every employment of military means. If that is the case, the military must be given clear direction about what it is to achieve, which will, in turn, help it to determine the means to use. That is bound to include state rebuilding and winning and retaining the hearts and minds of the people in the country concerned. Therefore it must be unwise, at best, to do anything likely to alienate the very people whom you are trying to win over with whatever action you are taking. Nothing could be more counterproductive than causing endless unnecessary casualties, particularly to tomorrow’s generation, who seem to be the biggest victims of all. That became abundantly clear to me when I found myself involved in the demining of countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia, Zaire, Somalia and Laos, where we discovered that it was the innocent who were the victims of what had been laid indiscriminately.

I am disappointed at the ambivalence of the Secretary of State’s Statement. It would be helpful if he could revise the second part of it. The whole thing seems to rest on a definition of “affordability”, a term that in this case I use about deployment. Can you deploy? Yes. But can you afford to give up what you must give up if you deploy it? One of the things that we as a country give up if we deploy these sorts of weapons is respect for us as a decent and civilised nation.

I conclude with the words with which I concluded my contribution to the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs:

“I do not believe that there is any military justification for the deployment of these mass weapons in a war where the most likely victims are nothing to do with the military conduct … I can find no justification for the deployment of these weapons in any activity that the British Army has been involved with since the end of the Cold War”.—[Official Report, 15/12/06; col. 1740.]

I hope, therefore, that very soon the Government will add the wretched M85 to the other weapons that they have so rightly discarded.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate at such an appropriate moment. After the progress at the Oslo conference, we now have the opportunity to take a significant step forward in Lima next week. It is telling that all noble Lords across the House have spoken in support of a ban. In December, at the Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, we discussed the tragedy of unexploded bomblets, which last so long in many parts of the world, and we heard much more on that from many noble Lords today.

We can send a strong message from across the House to our UK government negotiators to press the case for an international ban. That has the strongest support from these Benches. We hope that it will follow the experience of the landmine ban. While it may be unrealistic to expect instant universal acceptance of such a ban, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the thought that that should not make us temper our approach to how we go for an outright ban. It is important that the climate of international opinion makes the use of these weapons much more difficult even for nations that insist on retaining them.

I join others in welcoming how the UK Government have moved towards the side of the angels in recent months. It seems not long ago that we had an impasse where the MoD was determined to hang on to all its stocks of cluster munitions, both bombs and artillery, despite growing problems over their usage in the operations we are now undertaking. Then we had the Statement of 21 March this year, which announced the banning of dumb cluster munitions with immediate effect and the withdrawal from service of the BL755 aerially delivered bomb and the M26 multiple-launch rocket system artillery munition. These are welcome announcements that allow the UK to take more of a lead in calling for an international ban. However, as we have heard from many noble Lords today, we are still left with one cluster munition in the army: the L20A1 155-millimetre artillery projectile, which uses in each projectile 49 M85 submunitions. Our current stockpile, as I understand it, although the Minister may correct me, is 59,364 of these submunitions. This specifically is one of the weapons—as we have heard today, particularly well from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—that caused such problems in Lebanon when they were used by Israel last year. Other noble Lords have also spoken on that.

I will focus my remarks on that aspect of our United Kingdom policy, as others have, and on the definitions of “dumb” and “smart” munitions, if there is a distinction to be made. In the Written Statement of 21 March the Government highlighted their concern that dumb munitions disperse submunitions over an area. Many noble Lords have described that in graphic terms, such as numbers of football pitches. The Statement continued:

“Some cluster munitions address these concerns including through inbuilt self-destructing or self-deactivating mechanisms, reducing the risk of harm to civilians”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 37WS.]

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that is a specious argument.

In answer to an Oral Question on 17 April, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated that the UK has its own definitions of “dumb” and “smart” bombs, but she did not think the House would want to hear her explanation. I trust that the Minister will take this opportunity to tell your Lordships the difference in some detail.

At Second Reading of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in December, I went into considerable detail about the technical aspects and lack of effectiveness of cluster submunitions. I shall not repeat that today. I can say all I need to on the military aspects of the issue by saying I agree with every word the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said today. I support his military analysis of the lack of military utility of cluster munitions in the post Cold War world

Bomblets are scattered over a wide area and, as such, lack discrimination. If the target set is a mix of enemy and civilian, they cannot discriminate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester reminded us, that poses a real problem for most of the operations that our Armed Forces are currently undertaking. There is the instant humanitarian problem that you kill civilians as you kill your enemy. There is also perhaps the legal problem that has been highlighted by some noble Lords. Is the increased risk of collateral damage because of the dispersed pattern proportionate to what you are trying to achieve, or is it more likely to be counterproductive in any campaign that seeks to nurture the support of the indigenous population? All noble Lords have come to the conclusion that it is more likely to be counterproductive.

The second problem, which attracts more attention, is the question of unexploded ordnance and long-term consequences—what might be called the sowing of unintentional minefields. I also had a letter with similar wording from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, about what NATO has done to inform Serbia, as it is required to do, about the cluster munitions that were dropped in 1999. I could not believe what I read. Eight years later we are still thinking about how to deal with this complex problem. We are not even meeting our responsibilities to tell nations where we have dropped these weapons.

We have had a fair amount of discussion about what failure rates are appropriate. Again, in December I went into some detail about the effect of real conditions against trial conditions. The general failure rate quoted for dumb cluster munitions is 5 per cent. The manufacturer says that some smart weapons can have a rate of less than 1 per cent. However, data from the Gulf War showed that instead of the 5 per cent failure rate you tended to get about 23 per cent when using the weapons for real—four or five times the brochure rate. Various official sources have been quoted for the M85, with failure rates ranging from very low to about the same as our other cluster bombs. The latest one I could find was a trial showing it to be between 1.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent, but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, told us of much higher figures in Lebanon. We do not know, and that is one of the problems. So I fully support the cry of the noble Lord, Lord Low, for more facts about the real failure rates in real conditions. Perhaps it will be impossible to find out, but experience tends to suggest that manufacturers are being much too optimistic. Indeed, when I look at military handbook tables of cluster munitions, I find it interesting that the M85 is normally put in the same column as the BL755—it is seen as a weapon of the same sort of intelligence, if I can put it that way.

In a 2002 briefing, Human Rights Watch compiled a list of these various submunitions, stating which appeared to be more advanced than others. It certainly did not classify the M85 as advanced. It talked about a future generation of submunitions which would be quite different; they would be primarily set up to sense and destroy armour and, if they did not find the target, they would neutralise themselves. But because they are so complicated, we would end up with a cluster munition that has only two submunitions—the most they are likely to get is about nine. That is quite a different weapon. Those are what most of the military community thinks of as smart new future-generation weapons. That may be of only passing interest to your Lordships, but it suggests that there is a debate to be had about where one draws the line between smart and dumb. The M85 would certainly not be allowed to fall on the smart side of the line.

I am afraid that we have moved only halfway. We have all congratulated the Government, and have personally congratulated the Minister on his work on this. It is pretty good, but we can imagine the fight between the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, where the Ministry of Defence says, “We have 50,000 of these submunitions. They are pretty new. Leave us those and we will let you have the other two”. It is not good enough. If we want to take the moral high ground in these negotiations, we have to take it now. I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Minister will bring pressure back on the MoD to take those munitions out of service. Then the negotiators can go to Lima and negotiate from a position of moral strength. The military case must be entirely satisfactory for the sort of campaigns we find ourselves involved in.

We have a real opportunity to advance the international ban on these terrible and counter-productive weapons. I trust that we will brief the negotiators with everything we can to make sure that they advance the cause.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for raising the question of cluster munitions again. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I congratulate my noble friend on the important role he plays in the cluster munitions campaign.

This is an important subject, particularly in the wake of the Oslo conference and the Government’s subsequent announcement on disposing of two of the dumb munitions that we held. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the Minister for the important work he did behind the scenes to facilitate this.

We understand the humanitarian concerns that have so exercised many noble Lords all around the House. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, we have a duty to do what we can to diminish the horrors of war.

As we have previously said, we fully share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Elton and other noble Lords about what can be the very serious humanitarian impact of the use of dumb cluster munitions. In practice, in our case, as my noble friend said, this is the L20A1 155-millimetre artillery projectile with M85 submunitions with self-destruct devices. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the concerns expressed by my noble friend and others about this weapon.

We warmly applaud the work of British mine clearance specialists, who have taken the lead in recent United Nations operations to clear cluster bombs from homes and villages in south Lebanon. I declare an interest as an honorary colonel of the Royal Engineers TA regiment. Some members of my regiment have been involved in the mine clearing and, very sadly, a sergeant-major recently lost a foot.

I am sure that the Minister shares my concern at the long-term impact that will be felt in south Lebanon at the loss of so many lives to cluster bombs. It is right that the United Kingdom should take such a lead as it sensibly can in the movement against dumb cluster munitions and the inappropriate and unjustified use of cluster bombs more widely.

The commander of Israel’s multiple-launch rocket system was reported as saying:

“In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs. What we did there was crazy and monstrous”.

Clearly, this is unacceptable. Can the Minister indicate what pressure the Government have put on their Israeli counterparts to reveal the precise locations where they dropped cluster bombs last summer?

There is much for which to commend the recent Oslo conference. One of the main pledges to come out of it was to complete by 2008 a legally binding international document to prohibit the use of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. It is also true that the battle to win hearts and minds is crucial, not least in campaigns of the nature that our forces now face in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have a responsibility to reduce civilian casualties and for that reason have long been in favour of phasing out dumb munitions. But we also have a responsibility to give our Armed Forces adequate equipment and weaponry. We have a duty to provide them with as much security as we can, and I hope that the Government are taking fully into account the views of our services, of whom this Administration have asked so much when taking these decisions.

Towards the end of last year, Russia, China and the United States all indicated their ongoing opposition to a ban on cluster munitions, but none of those strategically vital nations attended the Oslo conference. Others, such as Japan and Poland, did not sign the agreement. Are the Minister and his colleagues confident that they will be able to persuade each of those nations to sign and observe such a ban? It is essential that we have an agreement whereby other countries follow our lead. An internationally binding ban on the use of a clearly defined category of munitions would therefore be altogether more significant. We therefore believe that the Government should continue to press for an internationally agreed definition of a cluster munition and similarly agreed distinctions between a “dumb” and a “smart” munition.

In the present circumstances, we continue to endorse the Government’s previous assessments that cluster munitions perform a legitimate military role that cannot be fulfilled by other means. The use of cluster bombs remains necessary when such targets become a serious threat to the security of our Armed Forces. We can never anticipate what threats our troops may have to face in the future; therefore, we do not yet support a blanket prohibition on the use of cluster munitions. Having said that, I wonder whether the Minister agrees that it is essential that commanders have very clear instructions about when the use of cluster bombs would be justified on the battleground. The problem in Lebanon, for example, was exacerbated by use of the bombs in relatively densely populated areas.

My Lords, I join everyone else in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing what I agree is an extremely important debate. I also thank him for his tireless humanitarian work in connection with cluster munitions and wish him God speed on his visit to Lima.

All speakers have expressed essentially the same view. Everyone is genuinely concerned and I hope that no one will take offence when I say that there is no ethical monopoly on anyone's part when addressing an issue such as this. Achieving a balance between ethics and national defence is the type of problem that all governments have to face and we have to do so with as much realism as possible if we are not to be reckless about the fate of our own forces. I also thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses for their kindness about my role. The Government have been profoundly concerned with these issues, and that has involved many colleagues throughout the Government. I will pass on the regard that the House expressed to them, if I may.

I will deal immediately with one of the many important questions that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised; about the clearance of mines in Afghanistan. We did not lay mines, which was one of the key ethical questions, but we have made a significant contribution to clearing the mines that were laid during the invasion by the Soviet Union in 1979, as well as the cluster munitions that were used. I have seen the work of our forces. I went on an exercise that they were conducting in training Colombian military forces. That is a country with more mines per capita of its population than anywhere else in the world. I saw at first hand how much risk people take and the huge expertise that they bring to bear. It is a huge testimony to them.

The use of cluster munitions was brought into sharp focus by the conflict that took place in Lebanon and Israel last summer. Since then, this Chamber has addressed the humanitarian consequences of these weapons and their military utility. In the spirit of that last remark, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that I, too, feel very much for those who have suffered during de-mining work as happened in the case of his regiment. I am sure that all of us will feel for those who suffered in that way. Today, I will set out what the United Kingdom Government have done at national and international level since the start of the international campaign for a ban on cluster weapons.

The House is well aware that this area requires us to balance two different but important aims. First, we need to take account of our humanitarian concerns; we want to reduce the harm that some types of cluster munitions can cause to innocent civilians and do all that we can to control the use of all cluster munitions. Secondly, we need to look at what our Armed Forces require to carry out the difficult and dangerous jobs that they pursue. I am on the same page as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, in that regard. Our obligation to them cannot simply be set aside. It would be quite unacceptable if they were put at avoidable risk.

I understand the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, but I believe that he sets a test that we could never pass. In using high explosives—bombs or explosives of all kinds—we run the considerable risk of hurting wholly innocent people. I hate that that happens, and I doubt that anyone in this House would ever be casual about that consequence. But it was not wrong to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by using high explosive weapons. I cannot believe that it was the wrong thing to do, even if there was a terrible cost, because of the vital humanitarian objective that Muslims should not die simply because they are Muslims, at the hands of people who hate Muslims. That is an ethical position as well.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Low, that I recognise the difficulty of striking these balances, as he put it. It is also invaluable to hear him say that we should take great care to listen to the knowledge that is imparted by those who are disabled by the explosion of previously unexploded ordnance.

The Government are fully seized of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. That is why we are firmly committed to a legally binding instrument that prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. In response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I doubt that there is a clear definition generally, but I use this definition to guide me in trying to address these matters. I take “smart” to mean weapons that can be aimed accurately and not dispersed in any way inaccurately, or weapons that will self-destruct if they are dispersed. “Dumb” weapons, of course, meet neither of those basic criteria.

We are working hard with international partners to get to that definition and to solve that problem. We have removed from our service our dumb cluster munitions and we urge all other countries to take similar action. I do not believe that they can be in any doubt about our position. This year's human rights report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will include a section on the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. My noble friend Lord Dubs also raised the humanitarian issues involved in clearing up cluster munitions, as did the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever.

On Israel's use of cluster munitions, we have taken practical steps. DfID has committed £2.5 million to work in this area. But, ultimately, I have to acknowledge the point made in this House. There has to be very real pressure on the Government of Israel to disclose all the information that they have and to assist in every way that they can to resolve the problem that was created—a problem that I cannot, as I have said on other occasions, describe as proportionate.

On Serbia, I have also seen the letter mentioned by my noble friend Lord Dubs. I assure him that I will push for the most rapid completion of the NATO exercise that I can achieve, if that is helpful.

The impact of munitions on children was mentioned a number of times in this debate. There are no comprehensive figures, but for the information of the House, in Lebanon, the latest figures from March 2007 show that 15 adults have been killed and 110 injured, and seven children have been killed and 60 injured. I do not want to make any particular point about the accuracy of the figures or the assertions; one adult or child is too many, but the reality is that when these weapons go off they have a devastating impact.

Given the nature of this debate, my next comments will not be welcome to everyone, although I know that the Official Opposition and the Government are in the same position. It is important to set out how the United Kingdom will use its remaining cluster munitions. I note the estimate given by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, of the number provided to many of us by NGOs. Of course, the actual figures are classified and I shall not produce them in this House. At present, we expect the Army’s extended range bomblet shell with its M85 submunition to remain in service until approximately the middle of the next decade, although that date is subject to change.

I can tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the estimated failure rate is 2.3 per cent. But I have always accepted that there are liable to be proven differences between systematic testing—and such testing yielded that figure—and the figures generated by real conditions. If I may say so, that is a problem with bombs in general—they do not all perform. The figures for air-dropped bombs of all kinds tend to be rather worse than that. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, also asked about the failure rate in real conditions. It is very hard for obvious reasons to make an accurate estimation, although it would be valuable to continue working towards doing so. My noble friend Lord Dubs raised a number of points which he also raised in his Bill.

Our force commanders are very clear about what we are doing. Opinion in this House is very important, I never deny that, but I do not believe that the House can ignore the advice of our military commanders. I understand that my noble friend Lady Turner is among those who hold a strongly opposing view, but I do not think that any government can seriously say that they are not going to listen to the detailed advice of their military commanders. For those reasons, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that although I completely accept that he brings great knowledge to this matter, I suspect that he would be among the first to tell us that we should also listen to the advice of those who command our forces. The United Kingdom has concluded that these weapons have a real and significant military value when, and only when, they are used in compliance with both international humanitarian law and the United Kingdom’s own rigorous targeting guidelines.

My noble and learned friend Lord Archer asked several questions about these very important points. He asked why we had not yet ratified Protocol v. A number of administrative procedures still need to be completed before ratification; for example, resolving the contingent liability funding to fulfil the provisions of Protocol v. These relate to the unexploded remnants of war. We are taking steps to address these and we are ready to abide, and do already abide, by the spirit of the protocol, not least because the UK was among the first states originally calling for the humanitarian benefits of this instrument. Therefore, of course, we will want to get to the conclusion as fast as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked whether cluster munitions could ever be a proportionate response. The use of all weapons, including cluster munitions, must be discriminate, proportionate, necessary and military objectives only may be attacked. Other feasible precautions can be taken about the choice of weapon and the means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding and minimising civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. That whole principle of proportionality must guide the entire process which we use.

We must be clear about the nature of the circumstances which may require our Armed Forces to use these weapons. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked about the basis on which military command advice is given. We are advised—I accept this advice—that there are certain, compelling circumstances when the British Armed Forces may need to use such munitions in conflict, including for force protection. In certain conflict situations, our Armed Forces need to be able to destroy, suppress or neutralise dispersed enemy armour, other combat forces or military facilities in a defined footprint of terrain.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way, but if the Government accept that the number of civilian casualties must be proportionate, how can we know, with weapons of this kind, how many civilian casualties there will be in a particular case?

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend knows, we know as much about it as when we drop bombs from the air on areas in which civilians may be located. Always when you have civilian populations in a conflict area, the reality is that people will unfortunately be injured.

My Lords, can the Minister explore that point a little more? Surely the essence of what we are talking about is the difference between precision bombs which hit a point and aerial weapons which disperse bombs over a wider area. These are different sorts of weapons.

My Lords, I understand that, but those who watched the bombing in Kosovo and Bosnia will have seen that large numbers of bombs were dropped from aircraft in patterns. If that does not have a fundamentally damaging and disruptive effect if there are civilians in the area, candidly, it is hard for me to understand what does.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, stated as a key issue that there would need to be major arguments in favour of using cluster munitions for them to be deployed, especially that of having an effect over a defined area without devastating the surrounding environment. Of course, it is easy to make play of the words “environment” and “devastation” in these circumstances, and I understand why he did so, but the alternative to cluster bombing—this relates to the point that I was just asked about—may require a greater number of high explosive munitions to be used. These would destroy the enemy but they also cause widespread harm to the surroundings and civilians. Munitions of that kind, even dating from World War Two, are still having to be disarmed.

In essence, sometimes, and used under careful guidelines, the military advice is that cluster munitions may in fact be less destructive than other weapons. These military requirements mean that we cannot at this stage commit to a total ban of cluster munitions. To do so would leave our Armed Forces with an unacceptable operational capability gap and in some circumstances would jeopardise protection.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, raised some very important points in this regard. Of course, we want to win people’s hearts and minds, even in these circumstances. It is true that people want to be free of violence and the risk of attack. That is the balance I have tried to describe. But one thing is clear to me—that we must in all these circumstances be able also to protect our forces. That is the balance.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what we are trying to do next and how we shall proceed. We are trying on the international stage to secure an effective treaty on cluster bombs, just as we did with landmines. That task was also drawn to our attention by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. As many in the Chamber are aware, these negotiations are evolving. Some countries, led by Norway, have become sufficiently frustrated by the lack of progress in the United Nations process in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, that they have set up an alternative procedure, the Oslo process. I understand that frustration but, equally, I understand that a treaty must be universal if it is to be wholly successful. That means that the major users and producers of cluster bombs must feel that they also have a stake in the outcome.

A process and agreement that omits these vital countries will of course have a far more limited humanitarian impact. That is why we are active within the CCW and contribute to the work of the Group of Governmental Experts to build consensus among its 102 states parties for a negotiating mandate in 2007 to address humanitarian concerns related to these weapons

That said, I share the House’s hope that the Oslo process, in which we are closely involved, will feed into and inspire the work of the UN’s CCW process. We will work with both with this aim firmly in mind.

At last year’s review conference of the CCW, when all efforts to secure a negotiating mandate were blocked, the United Kingdom took a lead and secured support for a discussion mandate to address this issue. Consequently, the Group of Governmental Experts was set up to report on the application and implementation of international humanitarian law and technical issues and to report back within 12 months. This is a prerequisite for any negotiations on a new instrument within the CCW. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Low, that we shall need to have access to the very best data and to make clear distinctions between types of weapons. That is part of the work of the group of experts.

Our immediate aim is to secure a recommendation from the chair of the Group of Governmental Experts for a negotiating mandate at a forthcoming meeting in June. We will then work to build support for this ahead of the November meeting of states parties.

There is a diverse range of CCW states, including some of the major users—

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand where he is coming from and his very firm view, supported by the Opposition Bench, that the Government cannot at this stage accept that M85 should be discarded. But will he address the rather important point that in all these international negotiations there will be a point at which we will either say that we ask others to accept our view that they are okay, or alternatively we will accept that this is a first step only and that we are not prepared to go beyond that? I should like to hear from him that we will not try to persuade others of our view that these weapons are acceptable because that is a very strongly disputed point. I am not saying that we will not hold to that view ourselves but this could be quite important because what we surely want to do is to end up with an international legal instrument which is capable of being extended as circumstances require.

My Lords, I am grateful for that question. We will of course adhere to the view that I have described to the House. It would be difficult for other countries not to understand our reasons and purposes, not as a matter of advocacy but just as knowledge of what we are doing. In a few moments, in context, I will return to the point about process, to which I undertake to reply.

The work with the CCW states, if it can be achieved, would be a very big prize. We are engaged in two processes. That is why we are participating energetically in the Oslo process, and we support the Oslo declaration, along with around 50 other countries, many of which are also CCW states. We will also be involved in the follow-up meeting to Oslo in Lima next week, in which we will discuss elements of the future instrument. I assure my noble friend Lady Turner that we will be taking a full part. Like the UN Secretary-General, we believe that the Oslo process should be “mutually reinforcing and complementary”—those were his words—to the CCW, and should provide an inspiration to the states of the CCW to fulfil the aim of the new instrument.

That brings me back to the point that the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Garden, asked me about. When we are working with our international partners to achieve our aim of a new instrument that prohibits those cluster munitions that pose unacceptable harm, we have to see it as a process that is bound to have to reflect the changes that take place over time. The decisions that have been taken recently by the Government reflect just that engagement with the process. It would be foolish for anyone to assert that we had arrived at a final point and that whatever weapons systems that we now believe to be critical to our well-being will always be so. I wholly accept that but, like all processes, we will need to include those people who are responsible for our defence advice in the understanding of the complexities as each stage moves forward. Otherwise, there would not only be a lack of international consensus, but there would be no consensus in the United Kingdom either.

I greatly appreciate the efforts of the Norwegian Government, as well as those of everyone who has supported the Oslo declaration, not least the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in introducing this debate, and my noble friend Lord Dubs in the introduction of his Bill. I am grateful to the Government of Peru for hosting the next Oslo process meeting. The Oslo process is an excellent one. It is leading discussion, it is going in the right ethical direction and it is very good in so many respects; but it is also limited because of those who are not taking part in it. The CCW process is critical and is likely to prove the decisive process, because that is where the players, without whom this effort will almost certainly fail, are located. That is why we will work in both processes. If we are successful in our work on the Oslo process and the links that it has to the CCW process, it will strengthen the United Nations’ prestige in limiting weapons of this kind. Our efforts may not bear fruit in the CCW, and that may mean that the Oslo process becomes the only means through which we can secure our aims, but we are determined to press along this route. In today’s debate, whatever the differences have been about some weapons, there has been a clear belief that the process must be continued and seen through to a proper conclusion.

My Lords, I am deeply indebted to everyone who has spoken in the debate. I rather deplore our tradition that everyone must start by congratulating the person who has been lucky enough to win the ballot. It uses valuable time, and there is nothing very clever about winning the ballot. I was very lucky to get it on this day, and it could well have been the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I acknowledge, as I should have done at the start, that he would certainly have conducted this debate at least as well and probably better than I did. He has a better track record on fighting cluster munitions than I as yet have, but I regard myself as a rival in that regard, and I will try not to start addressing him as my noble friend.

I, too, acknowledge the pioneering, courageous and skilled work of Landmine Action, a non-government voluntary body. I should have declared an interest, and I will have to put it in the office, that it paid the expenses of my visit to Oslo and will do so for my visit to Peru. I leave it to your Lordships to judge whether that has coloured my judgment; I assure noble Lords that it has not.

My noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out that of the 49 who went to Oslo, Poland, Romania and Japan have not signed up. I therefore, against Poland and Romania, take from a long list France, Germany, Italy and Spain, all in Europe, who did so. My noble friend mentioned Japan; I mention Canada and Austria. We can play these cards out as if it is a party game. The list is long, distinguished and growing. It is perhaps worth saying that of the 34 nations which make these beastly things, sell them to others and approve of their use, 15 have now signed up to the Oslo accord. So it was a very significant development and is one to take note of and to be exploited in a way in which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is more skilled than anyone in doing.

It has been suggested that we should approach a total ban by stages. Certainly, there should be effective regulation of how these things are used. The use in Lebanon was utterly disgraceful and inhumane. In discussions outside this Chamber, I am constantly told that commanders are not allowed to use them in built-up areas, and yet I have seen film of these things in use in Nis, a considerable city in the Balkans, as well as a commander who saturated a village in the Lebanon. So those rules do not actually work. In the haste, fear, anger and fog of war, rules get bent or ignored. The only thing that works is not providing weapons that are not fit for purpose. It must cause the Government to waver, whatever their current commanders are saying, that we have written testimony from one field marshal that this type of weapon is counterproductive and causes you to lose the war even if you have won the battle, and we have an air marshal and a general saying that they serve no useful military purpose either. Having talked to pretty senior military people and commanders in the British forces, I do not get a sense of the depth of tenacity to this weapon that the Minister’s reply suggested exists. I suspect that the postcode of the advice is somewhere near Whitehall rather than somewhere near NATO headquarters.

We come to the basic issue of why these things are unacceptable; apart from the military matters, which we can go on arguing about for some time, it is because they kill unacceptable numbers of civilians, of whom an unacceptably high proportion are children. We have had a notional figure of 30,000 casualties so far, and rising. That arises from two things. First, I concentrated in my opening remarks on the failure of the failsafe system, and I have heard no answer yet to the evidence that the United Nations produced from Lebanon on the failure rate, or to the video that I saw. There is the other aspect. These are area weapons; they do not attack targets. They attack areas in which the target either is or is supposed to be.

The noble Baroness is looking anxious; we have until eight minutes past two, but I have nearly concluded. What is wrong with these weapons is that they do not pinpoint a target. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, asked what is coming next along the production line. It is called Bonus, and it has two or three accurate, individually targeted weapons that can recognise the difference between a tank and a tractor. I ask the noble Lord to do two things. First, I ask him to expedite and assist in every way that he can the Oslo process, as well as the United Nations process. Secondly, I ask him to get the boffins on with developing something that does the job that these things fail to do, knocks out the enemy and does not turn whole nations again us. With some reluctance, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Post Offices

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Statement is as follows:

“Last December I published the Government’s proposals on the future of the post office network. We then consulted and received more than 2,500 responses. I am today publishing the Government’s final proposals and can now set out how we intend to proceed. Copies of the Government’s response to the consultation and our response to the Trade and Industry Select Committee’s report are available from the Vote Office.

“Post Offices play an important social and economic role in the communities they serve and the Government are determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country.

“New technology, changing lifestyles and wider choice of ways of getting services mean that people are using post offices less. The network’s losses are now running at almost £4 million a week—double what it was two years ago. That will increase further unless action is taken to make the network more sustainable. As the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters and others have recognised, the present network is unsustainable, which is why change is needed.

“Mr Speaker, without continuing public support, a purely commercial Post Office would see fewer than 4,000 branches. That cannot be allowed to happen, which is why the Government are providing substantial financial support to maintain a national network.

“Although the proposals I am confirming today will see the closure of about 2,500 branches, the remaining post office network will still be larger than all the UK’s banks and building societies put together. Because we want to maintain a national network, we are putting in place rules that provide for reasonable access across the whole country.

“We will give Post Office Ltd the ability to shape the network for the future with clearly defined access criteria to ensure that the right post offices are in the right place to maximise their business.

“The rules governing access are set out in detail in the response that we are publishing today and will guarantee reasonable access in both urban and rural areas with additional protection for more deprived urban areas and some of the more remote rural areas.

“People were understandably concerned that these changes should be implemented in a sensible way. So, taking into account obvious obstacles such as rivers or motorways, the Post Office, in putting forward its proposals, will also consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services and the impact on local economies. It will have to demonstrate how these factors have been considered in each local consultation.

“Most respondents welcomed the proposal to extend outreach arrangements to provide postal services to small and remote communities. The Government will, therefore, ensure that 500 new outreach locations will be provided, building on the success of mobile post offices and postal services provided in village halls, community centres or even pubs. In some areas, they will be able to deliver services to people’s homes.

“We also want to encourage community ownership. There are already some 150 thriving community-owned shops, many of which already incorporate post offices. It is clear from the comments received that there is widespread interest and the Post Office will work with interested parties to encourage their expansion. We also want the Post Office to work with credit unions to develop services further. Key to ensuring the success of the Post Office is to encourage their greater use.

“The Post Office will be given every opportunity to pursue government business, and the network changes will put it on a stronger footing to do so. We will encourage the Post Office to look at further scope for co-locating with other community services, including local government services. Councils will be involved in the proposed changes to the network, and that should provide an opportunity to explore ways for them to provide a greater role in future in deciding how best to provide post office services to the public.

“In addition, the Post Office wants to expand its financial services. It is already the leading supplier of foreign currency exchange and has recently increased the availability of its euro-on-demand service to 6,500 branches. It is the third largest provider of travel insurance, it insures one in 50 cars on the road, and last year one in 25 credit cards was issued by the Post Office. The instant saver account, introduced in April 2006, has 175,000 accounts with deposits of £1.8 billion.

“In addition, cash will be available through some 4,000 free-to-use ATMs being introduced at branches across the network. PayStation terminals are also now in 7,500 post offices. All these measures should encourage more use of post offices.

“The current Post Office card account contract ends in March 2010. As the House is aware, the Government have decided that a new account will succeed it after 2010. It will be available nationally and customers will be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now. I can confirm that the Department for Work and Pensions will today invite tenders for a successor to the Post Office card account to be available nationally, and customers will be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now. Customers using the successor product should be able to get their cash at ATMs as well as across the counter. It is our aim that the opening of the new accounts will be streamlined and involve a simpler process for customers.

“The Government remain committed to allowing people to get their pension or benefit in cash at the post office if they choose to do so, and there is a range of accounts available at post offices which make that possible, including the Post Office card account.

“The Post Office is determined to increase its range of products and business. I can tell the House today that the Post Office will be launching a broadband service later this year in partnership with BT. This will enable the Post Office to become a key player in the broadband-based services market, offering Post Office broadband services to the public.

“The Government have invested £2 billion since 1999 to support the network. Subject to state aid approval, we will now provide a further £1.7 billion up to 2011, including support of up to £150 million a year for the social network. Beyond that there will be a continued need for public funding of the social network.

“Where it makes sense, the Post Office will accommodate the wishes of those who want to leave, and the Post Office and the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters have now come to an agreement over how the compensation package will be administered. These measures are complemented by steps that the Post Office is taking to modernise the commercial network, returning the Crown offices to profitability and providing new products.

“As I told the House last year, of the 14,000 post offices in the UK, only the 458 Crown post offices are owned by the Post Office. The Post Office has to address the huge losses in this part of the network—£70 million last year alone.

“The network has always relied on other businesses to complement the postal business. So, in order to keep open as many post offices as possible, the Post Office has entered into an agreement with WH Smith to transfer 70 Crown post offices into their shops. That will ensure that these post offices stay open.

“The changes I am outlining today will be implemented over an 18-month period from the summer. In order to manage the process, there will be around 50 to 60 area proposals based mostly on groupings of parliamentary constituencies. But the Post Office and Postwatch will be able to adopt different approaches where it would be better to do so.

“In developing its proposals for public consultation, the Post Office will develop plans together in consultation with Postwatch, sub-postmasters and local authorities. Right honourable and honourable Members will be given advance notice of area proposals, in line with the arrangements used in the urban programme three years ago.

“That will be followed by each plan being subject to a six-week public consultation providing people with an opportunity to give their views. After the consultation, Postwatch will consider the responses and specific issues raised. There is also provision for further discussions and review by the Post Office and Postwatch before final decisions are reached. Final closure decisions will be made by Post Office Ltd.

“I said last year that we wanted to give local authorities and devolved Administrations a greater say in shaping the network in the future. We will, therefore, work with them to consider how we can best make this happen.

“The majority of people in this country want us to maintain a national network of post offices. I believe that the proposals set out today will do that and I commend them to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Statement. In reading it, I was struck by the fact that little had changed from the proposals presented to your Lordships’ House and another place in December. Sadly, the Statement confirms the worst fears of thousands of people in the country that the post office network is rapidly eroding under the stewardship of this Government. I wonder how many of the 2,500 respondents supported these proposals.

This Government have closed post offices more rapidly than any other Government, and today’s announcement accelerates that rapidity. A further 2,500 post office branches will be closed over the next two years. By the time of the next election, the Government will have closed more than one-third of the entire post office network. We know from the Minister in another place that the figure of 2,500 is not even the upper limit of the number of closures; it is the lower limit. Indeed, I understand that 2,500 is the number of compensated closures. Will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government have offered no guarantee that further closures will be compensated? I should be grateful if he would inform noble Lords of the Government’s estimate of the number of closures by 2010.

It is astonishing that this is a scheme for compulsory closures. As a result, even successful post offices could be closed simply by virtue of their location—simply by geography. As a result of the Government’s scheme, successful sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, who have spent years building up their businesses, will now be forced out. That is unacceptable. For some years the Government have provided a subsidy to rural post offices and today they trumpet their continued subsidy, but that subsidy will now go to all post offices. It will be spread more thinly and will cease to prioritise rural Britain. I fear that this Statement signals even more surely the impending extinction of the village post office.

These closures are excused by the Government as meeting their proposed access criteria, but the stark truth is that measuring the number of miles around a post office does not measure its value. Access criteria are, as my honourable friend in another place said, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We on these Benches of course welcome the Government’s decision to include public transport considerations. However, the access criteria protect roughly only one-third of the network. The Government have announced 500 new outreach locations but, as I noted in December, there is nothing to suggest that these would not amount to just a van touring the countryside, available for just a few hours a week, and falling very far short of the role fulfilled by the traditional village post office. Can the Minister inform us about the structure and function of outreach locations?

Five months ago, we learnt that 2,500 post offices would be closed, but still no list of those affected has been produced. Will the Minister say when the list of closures will be announced and whether the views of local communities will be taken into account or simply dismissed? It is extremely disappointing that Her Majesty’s Government have fixated on managing the decline of the post office service, rather than looking at innovative ways to create new business opportunities, or encouraging post offices to survive on their own businesses and not on government subsidies.

The real outcomes of the Government’s actions mean the following: the closure of one-third of the post office network; the loss to countless villages of their only shop; and to millions of vulnerable people the loss of a service that they have depended on. It represents a total lack of notice being taken of the needs of the elderly, disabled people or the most disadvantaged. There is no appreciation of the dedication of the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses—people who have spent years building up their businesses and serving their communities. For those thousands of people who depend on the vital services offered by the Post Office, and for those for whom the post office provides the hub of their community, this Statement is bitterly disappointing, and the outlook from it is bleak. Here is evidence that this Government sadly do not hear the heartbeat of our country. This is a very, very sad day.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I was interested to hear about the consultation process, but what was its purpose? There were 2,500 responses, but I can see no difference between the announcement today and the announcement made before the consultation process. All those people who wrote letters and who campaigned and lobbied obviously had nothing to say. There was nothing among the 2,500 responses of any value or note—even those written from my local area.

Under this Government, 4,000 post offices have already closed, and a further 2,500 post offices are looking at closure. That is an underestimate. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, pointed out that these are compulsory closures. Closures are taking place throughout the country where post offices have become unprofitable—they are disappearing at a great rate—so the number of closures could well exceed 6,000. Of course, that trend has continued for some time. Under the previous Government, there were 3,000 closures, and the nature of the business of the Post Office has changed with new technology. Those people who live in rural areas, and even some people in city areas, find it difficult to reach the added distance of their nearest post office, and there is a real feeling of being under threat.

I live in one of the most rural parts of England—the village of Rochester in Northumberland. I did a quick calculation on a map and realised that at present there is no post office in 100 square miles. With the almost certain closure of Otterburn, the figure will probably be doubled. I have a real question about the bus routes and provision of public transport. There is public transport to the local post office, but there is only one service going and one coming back. Do I want to spend eight and a half hours at the post office? I register that there is some joy in going to the post office, but perhaps not for that long. We have to look closely at the bus routes in some areas because there is an issue about how long it takes to go to and come back from the post office.

The Statement says that the Department for Work and Pensions will today invite tenders for a successor to the Post Office card account to be available nationally, and that customers will be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now. Does that imply that the tendered process will go to the Post Office? In my understanding, tenders can go to anybody and so may not be linked to the Post Office at all. One of the mainstays of the present system could disappear from the post office network, with the closure of even more post offices around the country. I hope that the Minister can answer that question.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for those remarks. On the question of consultation mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, we received more than 2,500 responses, and listened carefully to what people said. Overall, there was a concern that there must be greater utilisation of the network along with recognition of the social role. The key themes are summarised in more detail in the Government’s response document, with individual responses available on the internet. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, also asked about the number of closures; we are talking about around 2,500 closures. There will be a local consultation process on each area plan, which will be grouped around parliamentary constituencies, with local councils and others having input. It will be a rolling programme, with each area plan having a six-week consultation period. We envisage that the whole process will take around 18 months.

We are investing £1.7 billion into the network up to 2011 and guaranteeing the social network with a substantial commitment of £150 million a year. As I said in the Statement, there are only 4,000 commercially viable post offices. The whole network is currently losing £4 million a week. It cannot go on at that rate; it is not sustainable. However, we have taken a great deal of care to ensure that we maintain access criteria for both rural and urban areas, particularly deprived areas. I remain unclear what the party opposite would do to support the post office network. I would be interested to hear further proposals from it at some stage.

The noble Baroness mentioned compulsory closures. The aim is to get the right service in the right area to meet the access criteria and ensure national coverage. Post Office Ltd needs to be able to make compulsory closures to ensure that these objectives are met. Closure decisions will not be determined by sub-postmasters’ preferences, so there will be cases where there is a strategic fit between a closure proposal and a sub-postmaster’s wish to leave the network. There is, however, a generous compensation package where postmasters decide to leave.

Will rural post offices receive fewer subsidies? Well, Post Office Ltd will be making further significant savings through reductions in central costs and overheads, combined with more cost-effective delivery of services and the strategically planned closure of up to 2,500 offices. That means that the proposed social network payments will be sufficient to underpin the whole of the non-commercial network without adverse impact on support available to the rural part of the network.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also mentioned access criteria, which are clearly set out. Nationally, 99 per cent of the UK population must be within three miles, and 90 per cent within one mile, of their nearest post office outlet. In deprived urban areas across the UK, 99 per cent of the total population are to be within one mile of their nearest post office outlet. Discussions of the local pattern of support will be a matter for consultation between the concerned parties—Post Office Ltd, local communities and local authorities—which will have to bear the access criteria in mind, ensuring that communities are properly served.

The tender for POCA is open to competition, as it must be under EU regulations, but the Post Office is well placed to bid for the contract. Nevertheless, we must go through an open tendering competition, so that is not a foregone conclusion.

My Lords, ignoring the crocodile tears spilt by the Conservative Opposition today, will my noble friend say something further about the problem confronting the very elderly and the handicapped in the procurement of their pensions and other entitlements? As I understand it, they had previously gone to their local post office or obtained help in that regard. What can my noble friend say about that? Is this not a source of deep concern among elderly and handicapped people?

My Lords, I assure your Lordships that we have borne services to vulnerable people in mind. Most pensioners now receive their pensions through banks. Pensioners will still be able to cash either their benefits or their pensions at post offices. We are ensuring, with the rollout of POCA—which is popular; there is an extensive number of accounts—that pensioners and the vulnerable will have the opportunity to use these services in post offices.

The essential point of the access criteria is that we ensure that vulnerable groups have retained their local post office services. That is the intention, through ensuring that nowhere in the country is not served with a local post office, which is why we are giving a commitment to maintain not merely the commercial post office network, but also the social post office network. Post office branches will increasingly offer a range of services. It has been announced, for example, that the Post Office will be able to offer broadband and internet services. Increasingly, people of all ages use the internet to apply for their driving licences or other services. We will see a rollout of new services in the post office network in the future, which we are keen to support.

My Lords, as a Welshman, I ask roughly how many Welsh post offices the Government envisage being closed under this plan. Was the target figure arrived at after detailed examination of the needs of thousands of communities, balanced against financial considerations, or was it an arbitrary figure picked out of the air to be imposed willy-nilly, irrespective of the sum total of loss and damage?

My Lords, the figure was not plucked out of the air. An assessment was made, and that is the framework on which we have just consulted. It was envisaged that we could reduce the number of post offices by about 2,500 and still meet the access criteria for vulnerable groups, in both urban and rural areas, and ensure that there was an adequate pattern of post offices throughout the country.

There will be a number of local consultations, something like 50 to 60, across the country. They will be based on groupings of parliamentary constituencies. It will be for those consultations—as I said, they will be done on a rolling basis—to decide the patterns of service right across the country. Those local consultations will ensure that services are provided evenly across the country, and that will also apply to Wales.

My Lords, a fortnight ago, on 3 May, we had local government elections in England and Scotland, Assembly elections in Wales and the Scottish parliamentary elections. Why was this announcement not made before 3 May?

My Lords, first, there is a period of purdah when the Government are unable to make announcements that may affect the result of an election. There are strict rules governing these matters, and we were restricted. The Government are also unable to announce anything that can be construed as mildly positive. Secondly, once a consultation has been announced, it must run its course. The consultation had its timeframe, and this is the appropriate time to make this announcement.

My Lords, once again a Minister has come to this Chamber to announce the further mutilation of a once great public service. It is a sad occasion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said; it is always sad. On these occasions, I have to declare an interest as a former postman and an official of the union. In fact, there are three noble Lords in the Chamber to whom I used to deliver post. I claim no credit for asking the same questions that I asked six years ago; I am very sorry that my forecast has proved correct. Having stripped the Post Office of many of its counter services, the Government took away work and are now seeing their scorched-earth policy working against the public interest. That is not an inflammatory comment; it is happening. I shall finish my questions with a forecast about the universal service obligation of our once great Post Office.

Does my noble friend remember when we had an integrated Post Office that provided a world-renowned service? I used to travel the world for the Labour Party and for my union, and I was proud of a Post Office that delivered a good public service. People copied it; even behind the Iron Curtain, the British Post Office was looked to.

Does my noble friend remember what I said about the regulator? This is about financing the Post Office. The regulator put in place by the Government has destroyed the financial base of the Post Office. I would like my noble friend to go away and look at what is happening, which will be a threat to the universal service. Will he look at what Postcomm does? It is supposed to regulate the Post Office but is giving away its work to competitors at a cheap rate. They then dump their work into the Post Office, and every item from our competitors delivered by the Post Office costs it money. Whose fault is that? I do not want to make too much of a political attack on my own party, because the National Girobank under the previous Government would have met half of these things.

My mind boggles when I think of pensioners, the most vulnerable people in this issue, scrambling up to the counter to get a broadband connection. They will be thrilled when somebody says, “You can have broadband from the post office”. Will my noble friend look at how an integrated Post Office could finance itself and save putting the public purse at risk all the time? It could be done; all it needs is the political will.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his intervention. I must respect his views on the development of the Post Office, although I do not always agree with them. I shall make two points. The first is about our commitment to a universal service. The Government want to maintain a universal postal service and retain a social network. We are putting considerable resources into doing that. However, my noble friend must bear in mind that patterns of usage change. The Post Office is a venerable institution that served the country very well and will continue to do so. However, people increasingly use the internet and bank accounts. They do not always pop down to their local post office to purchase stamps and, if they do so, they do not necessarily do it in the numbers that make that post office commercially viable. Some post offices have a very small turnover.

My second point is that all parts of government and the economy try to ensure that they get services at the most competitive price. The decision on TV licences was made not by the Government but by the BBC in the interests of its licence fee payers. There are pressures on the Post Office, and rather than returning to the 1960s or 1970s and unlimited government subsidy, the Post Office must reform and adapt. However, at the same time, we will retain the core of the Post Office and maintain the all-important social network to support rural areas and deprived people in villages or urban centres.

My Lords, I accept the Minister’s words that the Post Office needs to reform, but it also needs more products to service/sell at its post offices. Reformation is not helped by the current demand of the post office unions, which, I understand, is something like a 27 per cent rise this year. In this climate of suspicion between management and unions, what positive steps are the Government taking to ensure that the Post Office sells more products?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that the Post Office needs to look at more commercial opportunities. Even now, any business that wants to supply new products to the Post Office can do so. There is a process that they can go through to develop the sale of new products or franchises. As we were debating earlier, the Post Office is concerned that it retains its core business because it does not want to undercut the principle of a universal service. There are opportunities to develop new products—I gave the example of broadband—and that is happening. Relations between the unions and the management are a matter for Post Office Limited and Royal Mail. The management and the trade unions need to work together to ensure that the Post Office becomes even more competitive because, in the modern world, it has to stay competitive to survive.

My Lords, I suspect that I am not alone here today in renewing my television licence, driving licence and so on online rather than through the Post Office in the way that most of us used to do. That said, when I do go to a post office, whether in London or Edinburgh, it tends to be busy, and it is unusual not to have to queue. However, that is clearly not typical.

I am more concerned about the situation with the sort of rural post office that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to earlier. That fits in with what my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said about people less able to make their own way to a post office. How will they be accounted for in the consultation? It will be difficult for the Minister to reconcile his comment about post offices having a valuable economic and social role in the community with the announcement that has just been made if maximising business is to be the main criterion. How will he put that into effect in the consultation?

There is a practical aspect of the consultation process. I know from experience as an elected Member in another place and in the Scottish Parliament that in previous post office closure announcements, when consultation took place it was little more than a sham. There were rarely any changes to the original plans, which made local people cynical, particularly if, as I have seen, the six-week period straddled a holiday month—July in Scotland or August in England and Wales—or even the Christmas and New Year period, without being extended. Can I have an assurance that that will not happen in this case?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the consultation process must be real, people must be given an opportunity to have an input into it, and we should be wary that it does not take place when it is difficult for people to have their say. I will certainly take on board what my noble friend says in that context to ensure that people have their say in local consultations.

We have done an awful lot of work on deprivation. We proposed that protection should apply to the 10 per cent most deprived urban areas. That was our initial thought—and this is how consultation can make a difference. In the light of responses to the consultation we decided to extend this provision to ensure that the 15 per cent most deprived urban areas are protected. So, as a result of consultation, the number of deprived urban areas to be covered has gone up from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. That means that the 15 per cent most deprived urban areas across the UK will be covered.

A blanket 15 per cent application across each nation would not be equitable or reflect the relative needs of each country. However, we have built on the approach we developed for the application of stamp duty relief and have sought to apply the same protection to each nation as that experienced by its most comparable English region.

The main point is that, as a result of our consultation, 15 per cent of urban areas in England and Scotland will be defined as urban deprived as will 30 per cent in Wales and Northern Ireland. If I gave the impression that we would be looking only at commercial aspects of the future structure of the Post Office, I did not intend to do so. We will be looking closely at deprivation and ensuring that vulnerable groups are properly served by the Post Office network.

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further. I am equally disappointed with the Statement. It says that public transport will be taken into consideration. Who will make that decision? Will the local community have the overriding say or will it be the Post Office system? That is not clear in the Statement.

The Statement talks about outreach. I would like the Churches—or at least those with the greatest presence in villages—to be considered for inclusion. The Minister talks about free use of an additional 4,000 ATMs. How many will be situated in rural communities and how many in urban communities? If they are all situated in urban communities it will not help the rural communities.

Finally, perhaps I may push the Minister on compulsory closures. He referred to the involvement of local communities. If the Post Office decides to close an office compulsorily but the local community wants one still to exist, is there any reason why that community could not reinstate one itself? Again that is not clear from the Statement.

My Lords, I do not have the information on the division of ATMs between rural and urban areas, but I will write to the noble Baroness on it.

My understanding is that there will be 50 to 60 local consultations, after which Post Office Ltd will announce the result. Clearly, that will have to be done in line with the established criteria.

We are working with different groups on outreach outlets, and in many areas we will encourage churches to work with post offices to deliver outreach services. Those 500 outreach outlets will be chosen on the basis of local need; there is not a list of 500 outreach outlets at the moment.

My Lords, as so many noble Lords have taken part in this debate on the Statement, perhaps the Government will consider giving proper time for a debate to explore this in much more detail.

The noble Lord said that 2,500 replied to the consultation. How many thought that this was a great idea?

My Lords, I do not have to hand the breakdown of percentages. I am not sure that we have them. People often give qualitative rather than quantitative responses, so sometimes it is difficult to break down answers in terms of “yes” and “no”. Some people are in favour of some aspects and not others. I will do my best to look into the matter and write to the noble Baroness.

We are out of time. I will write to noble Lords whose issues I have not had time to cover.

Olympic Games 2012: Heritage and Arts Funding

rose to call attention to the effect on heritage and the arts of the transfer of lottery funds to the 2012 London Olympic Games; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 16 March this year, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, transferred substantial funds from the lottery funds to the Olympics. Combined with the money that was transferred a year ago, the total transfer now amounts to £675 million—a huge sum. Ten days before her speech, the outgoing Prime Minister made a speech in the Tate Gallery on the arts. He had not made a speech on the arts for the past 10 years—his last brush with the arts was “Cool Britannia”. In that speech at the Tate, he made a statement with which no one in this House could disagree. He said that the arts were,

“of fundamental importance to the country”,

and that there would be no more “boom and bust”. Yet 10 days later, the Culture Secretary slashed support to the arts and heritage. So when the Prime Minister says boom or bust, it is boom for Tony and bust for Tessa.

The trouble with the Prime Minister is that, when he stumbles on the truth, which he does from time to time, he picks himself up as though nothing has happened. When I read and hear his speeches, I get a feeling that here is a man who does not often open a book of poetry or go to the theatre or opera—or even open a book at all. In fact, his first confrontation with a novel may well be the fiction choice of the month, his own memoirs.

Whatever I say about the Prime Minister is left at the post by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who referred to,

“an utterly philistine government, whose Prime Minister recently read a platitudinous speech about the … arts in Britain, when his own horizons are rock and pop”.

We know that the outgoing Prime Minister likes Liam Gallagher and that the new Prime Minister likes the Arctic Monkeys—not much of a regime change there, I suggest to the House.

What I object to particularly in Tessa Jowell’s statement was that she referred to this massive transfer of money as a loan. It is not a loan; it is an act of larceny. Any Cabinet Minister should be able to distinguish between a loan and larceny. She went on to say that it would unlock the ambitions of young people. It will not for those in the arts or those who work in voluntary heritage activities.

In 1992, I was the Home Secretary who set up the National Lottery. I persuaded John Major and Norman Lamont, who were not too keen on it, to create a new source of money for what no Government would be willing to fund, appropriately or sufficiently; namely, the arts, sport, the heritage and good causes. That was the purpose of the National Lottery. In the White Paper, I had a cast-iron guarantee from the Treasury that lottery money would be additional money for public sector projects and not a substitute. That was the promise from the Treasury. I cannot help feeling that a Treasury promise is rather like—I think that it was Jonathan Swift who said this—pie crusts, made to be broken. That promise has been fundamentally broken. The lottery, as it was set up, provided 25 per cent of its funds for the arts, 25 per cent for heritage, 25 per cent for grass-roots sports and 25 per cent for charities. They now get 16.6 per cent. That is a huge change.

I come now to the various activities that have been hit by this decrease. Since 1997, the Government’s record on heritage has not been good. We know that they do not like history. Many new Labour people thought that history started in May 1997—even the Minister is nodding—and had little love for our heritage. There is no doubt about that because, since 1997, there has been a real-terms cut in heritage money, with no advance at all on £97 million. The Minister is looking for confirmation on that from his department, but I got the figures from his department. The substitute for that has been the Heritage Lottery Fund, which became the main funder of heritage activity in our country. The body that pulls them together is Heritage Link. It represents a massive number of organisations— 81 across the country. In the next few years, its money will be reduced from £255 million to £180 million and is planned to be reduced to £120 million. That is a massive cut.

What is at risk? Let me give one or two examples. It so happens that today, in Norfolk, in the fenlands, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is opening a visitor centre in Lakenheath Fen, in a remarkable recovery of farmland being turned into wildlife-rich fenland, with reed beds and biodiversity. That is a tremendous improvement of the landscape. That centre was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to the tune of £546,000. Fortunately, it is complete and is being opened today, but that is the sort of project for which money will no longer be available. If the money is cut from £255 million to £120 million, there will be lots of noes in future to landscape and other projects.

There are also 1,400 schemes for churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth. They involve modest amounts of money and protect and enhance the environment in one way or another, using volunteers. Much of the money comes from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The Heritage Lottery Fund also supports our craft industry—lacemakers, for example. It has launched a scheme to create 20 internships in glass-making, making coloured glass for windows. It will not be able to initiate such schemes in future on anything like the scale that it has done.

The fund has also introduced training courses for volunteers on how to maintain places of worship, whether that be a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, a church or a cathedral—training volunteers how to help to maintain the fabric of our nation. Again, there will be much less money to go on those projects. The drop in money is dramatic. This year, there is £261 million. Compared with the money announced last year, £250 million has been taken from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the bit of the good causes fund that goes to heritage.

Let me mention museums, because I am involved in that area. The Minister was involved in it, too. He was appointed by a Conservative Minister to a quango to look after libraries and museums and he did a wonderful job. We recognised his worth before the other party. Museums have not fared well under this Government. Let me give the figures: I have them from the Minister’s department. I asked the Library for them and it produced beautifully tabled figures; they must be right. In 1997, the government national grant to the main museums was £205 million. In 2007, it was £320 million. That is a good increase, £115 million, but in real terms—these are again the figures that I got from the department—it is £53 million, £5 million for each of the 10 years.

The Government boast that more people are going to museums because they have abolished admission charges. In the last year for which there were admission charges for our major museums, as the report from the National Audit Office showed, income was £18 million. What do they get in exchange? Five million pounds. That is not a success story. That is why, in 2005, 60 per cent of our museums said that they could not add to their collections.

I am involved in museum work because I helped to start a new museum during the past two years and I am the principal fundraiser for it. It is the Cartoon Museum, just 100 yards from the British Museum. There, we tell the whole history of one of the art forms that we created, from Gillray, Rowlandson and Hogarth in the 18th century right up to date with Peter Brookes, Steve Bell and Martin Rowson. We had to raise all the money ourselves. There was not a penny from the Arts Council or local government. I do not mind at all. We do it. But if the Minister wants to help a little museum such as ours, I suggest that he gives a dinner at one of the houses that the Government have, such as Lancaster House. I will bring along some sponsors to raise money for the Cartoon Museum. I will give the patter; he can collect the money. The Government have not done well by museums, as every museum director will tell you today.

I now turn to the arts. The general fund for the arts is through the block grant from the Government, but the Arts Council is fundamental for the funding of small activities in the arts. This year, it is suffering a cut of £112 million, as was said in an Answer in the House of Commons yesterday, but the Minister forgot to mention that, last year, it suffered a cut of £63 million as a result of transfer to good causes from the arts. That is quite a cut. It is not £112 million; it is more.

What does that mean? The lottery funds for the Arts Council go to small operations and activities. The budget for those is £83 million. This year, it is £54 million and will then be reduced to £24 million. Ministers say, “We are only going to cut the arts by 5 per cent”. I am sufficiently numerate to know that a cut from £83 million to £24 million is not one of 5 per cent but one of 75 per cent. The sort of activities hit by that are all the ancillary activities across the country—brass band support, handbell ringer support, dramatic societies, operatic societies, dance groups and young actors. Of those grants, 86 per cent are less than £5,000 and go to small local activity groups and individuals.

I had a letter from the Secretary of a Member of this House who is a senior adviser to the Government—this is supposed to be a joined-up Government. She wrote a painful letter saying that, part time, she writes plays and is a director. She said that she is the sort of person who will be hit by the cuts. I am talking about those people at the end of the arts world all over the country—not the great arts institutions—being creative, putting on plays in tiny halls with some of the actors being voluntary, some of them professional, getting by, writing modern plays about the dilemmas of today. Those small organisations are innovative, experimental and imaginative.

Sport is also involved. The Council of Physical Recreation claimed that it had a much bigger rout, with £540 million diverted to the Olympics. That will hit local provision, smaller pavilions and multi-use games areas.

The Minister and I are very old friends; we go back a long way. He once published some of my books, but he has recovered from that. Today, he has to defend the indefensible and excuse the inexcusable. He is by far the most cultured member of the Government and ought to be Secretary of State—I hope that I have not doomed his political career. However, if he is going to say that the private sector should make up some of this money—he is nodding already and will say that Mr Serota went to America last week and raised a lot of money for the Tate—then give us the same tax breaks as Americans have. Let a British citizen who gives money to a charity or to an arts or heritage organisation deduct that from his top level of salary, which is what Americans do. That is a much greater tax break. Every $60 given to a cultural organisation in America is worth $100. For a 40 per cent taxpayer in the UK, the tax benefit today is not 40 per cent if you give; it is about 20 per cent. Therefore, you cannot rely on rich philanthropists, such as Mr Hintze, who has bailed out the Wandsworth Museum. The Government have a big responsibility here.

Yesterday, Tessa Jowell mentioned the cultural fund of £40 million. It is not her money to spend; it comes from the Big Lottery Fund. Does the Minister remember what was said about that fund? The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who is sitting next to him, should remember, because when the Bill was going through this House, he said:

“Of course, we all support the spirit. I make no bones about it: we are not going to resile in any way, shape or form from the spirit of additionality”.—[Official Report, 13/3/06; col. 1053.]

The programme announced yesterday is pure additionality; Tessa Jowell has just put £6 million into the £40 million. This is another pie crust broken.

The activities that I have been talking about are subject to a treble whammy. First, there are the cuts of £675 million, which have already been announced. Then there is the lottery game, which must raise £715 million. All these institutions fear that that game will suck money from the rest of the fund. I think that their fear is justified. Then there is the spending round later this year. Most of the arts organisations to which I have talked are planning for a real-terms cut that will probably be substantial. It will be the first test of whether Gordon Brown, who has already agreed all this, really supports culture.

Finally, I ask the Minister to make one specific declaration today. At the end of the day, societies and civilisations are remembered not for their athletics but for their aesthetics. They are remembered for their painting, their music, their drama, their poetry, their architecture and their landscape. That is what marks out the memory of civilisations. I hope that the Minister will say at the Dispatch Box today, “We have taken this money from the lottery but we are not going to take any more”. I would like the Minister to make that pledge. He is scowling already. I make the same recommendation to the noble Lord, Lord Coe. There is a great deal of anger about what has been done to these bodies, which will suffer as a result of money going to the Olympics. The Minister’s reputation is becoming a bit tarnished by what is becoming the great maw of public spending. One way of improving that reputation would be to say, “I am not going to take any more money at the expense of the arts, heritage and good causes”. That would do the Olympic cause some good, and I hope that the Minister will make that announcement today. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, on securing this important debate. I have some sympathy with a number of the points that he made, although I could not agree entirely with the detail.

I declare a number of interests in the arts. I am director of the Clore Leadership Programme, chairman of the London Cultural Consortium, the Donmar Warehouse and the Wordsworth Trust, and I am on the board of the National Theatre. I am in some difficulty, because I believe on the one hand that huge benefit can and will come to this country and to many people in this country from the Olympics and Paralympic Games in 2012, including from the vast range of cultural activities that will and should take place before and around the Games. On the other hand, I absolutely recognise the deleterious impact that the recent decisions about lottery funding have had, particularly on the arts, heritage and, importantly, on community sport.

It is difficult to overestimate the impact that these decisions have had on the cultural sector. The noble Lord was absolutely right that the principal impact on the arts is on the grants for the arts scheme, which provides small grants to individuals and small organisations, particularly organisations that are not regularly funded from Arts Council England’s mainstream budget. They are already suffering from the decisions that have had to be taken to reduce the grants for the arts programme.

I have talked to people right across the cultural sector, and virtually everyone engaged in the arts believes that money has been taken away from the arts to fund the Olympics. That perception is a real tragedy. The Government made a serious error of judgment when they took their decision on this funding. I do not particularly blame the DCMS. I see the hand of the Treasury in this, and I suspect that the DCMS fought valiantly to minimise the damage that was going to be caused.

This has set the arts against the Olympics. That should absolutely not be the case, because the two should go hand in hand. The original de Coubertin vision was that sport and the arts together would have a great festival. I believe that that can still be the case. In the next few weeks, I suspect that we will hear more about the plans for the cultural Olympiad—the cultural activity around the Olympics and in the run-up to it. There has been enormous enthusiasm in the cultural sector for that concept until now. The decisions that have been taken on lottery money have done great damage to that enthusiasm. I believe that it is possible to rekindle the enthusiasm, but we need to put some effort into doing it.

How can all this be put right? I fear that the raid on the lottery cannot now be reversed, at least in the short term. I am sad about that. It was a mistake, and I hope that at some stage the Government will admit that. It is especially so because it comes after the first blow—the introduction of the Olympic lottery, which is already siphoning some money away from the mainstream National Lottery and reducing the money for the good causes. The way to put things right is through the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is due to be announced in the autumn and where decisions will probably be made at an earlier date.

At the moment, the DCMS is canvassing on options for funding for the arts and the spending review, which range from the status quo plus an allowance for inflation, to a cash standstill and on to cuts of 5 per cent or even 7 per cent per year. I cannot say what a disaster it would be if, on top of what has happened to the lottery, cuts of any kind—even a standstill is a cut—were to be made in funding for the arts. At the very least, an increase for inflation is needed. Let us remember that these would be rounding figures for any other department of state. They would be small change for the Department for Work and Pensions or the Ministry of Defence, but they are absolutely vital, and make a huge difference, to the all-important arts.

In contradistinction to the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, I would argue that the arts have been a huge success story for this country, and for this Government, in the past 10 years. Recent decisions have put that success in danger. I plead as passionately as I can with the Government not to make it worse later on this year.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for initiating this very important debate. As all of us interested in this area know, despite the greatness of this country’s cultural endeavour, this subject is somehow a poor relation in the political arena. Too often, it struggles to be heard, and, too often, it is treated as an optional extra. Today, we are talking about the result of both these responses.

Ever since it became clear that the financing of the 2012 Olympics was running into difficulty, the arts and heritage sectors have feared that they would be targeted. They were right to worry. Only two months ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, the Prime Minister made one of his so-called legacy speeches—a speech about the arts. He referred to his pledge that the arts should be,

“part of our core script”.

Gordon Brown has said something similar:

“The arts sector is not a sideshow”.

This of course was precisely the line taken in London’s bid for the 2012 Games and one of the main reasons why it won.

The modern Olympic movement was created by Pierre de Coubertin, who was not only an amateur boxer, but also a part-time poet. His vision was not just about sport, but about bringing together culture and sport. London’s bid for the 2012 Games outlined a vision for a cultural Olympiad, a festival celebrating the diversity and richness of culture in London and the United Kingdom. There was more: the London bid was unique in promising that this cultural Olympiad would be held across the whole country and not just confined to the Olympic city.

It may be asked whether those who will travel to London for the Games will pop into the National Gallery between races. I am more optimistic. The Games done well will mean that everyone across the length and breadth of the country will have, through museums, galleries and festivals et cetera, enough opportunity to feel involved with the Games. But the voluntary arts and heritage groups, which are rooted in almost every local community, are crucial in ensuring that this cultural Olympiad does what the London bid promised. Here comes the catch: the Olympic organisers have admitted that they will provide “very little funding”, so the money has to be found by the various arts and heritage organisations. As we have already heard, this latest diversion of lottery funds hits them particularly hard.

The chief executive of the Voluntary Arts Network has said:

“The voluntary arts sector provides the potential for collaboration and celebration on a vast scale ... further diversion of lottery funds threatens ... the development, and even the survival, of many groups ... between now and 2012”.

Nicholas Hytner, the hugely respected director of the National Theatre, has said:

“There is a spectacular lack of logic in using money earmarked for the arts to plug the holes in the Olympic bills. The money raided from the lottery will largely affect small, innovative, experimental organisations and individuals”.

The Secretary of State argues that the arts should contribute to the Olympic bill because of the cultural Olympiad, but there will not be a cultural Olympiad if there are no funds to run it. At the moment, there is not nearly enough to achieve what the Government envision.

On Tuesday, in a speech full of inspiration about the importance of culture in the Olympics, the Secretary of State, as we have heard, announced a £40 million legacy trust. This trust has been launched no fewer than three times—in October, January and now, May. Can the Minister assure us that this time it is for real? I join the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in asking the Minister to assure this House that there will be no further raids on the lottery. Does he accept that due to the lottery funds that have already been diverted, it is essential that the Arts Council is not delivered real-term cuts in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review?

The latest “transfer” of funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, so politely called it, has, of course, far wider implications. The voluntary arts sector involves more than 3.6 million people who stage plays, operas, concerts, and run classes and workshops. These types of enterprises are the seedbed of our major arts institutions, discovering, nurturing and encouraging the talent that feeds through to the pinnacles of achievement we celebrate across the arts in this country. We undermine this sector at our peril.

In answer to a Question asked yesterday, the Minister pointed out how much money the Government have put into the arts and I congratulate the Government on being so generous. But, in return, they have demanded the stringent setting of targets. How does the Minister expect such targets to be adhered to when funds are withdrawn because the Government cannot stick to their own?

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I congratulate the Government on the revitalisation we have seen of museums across the country through the introduction of free admission and on the Renaissance in the Regions programme. But the future of the renaissance programme is far from secure. Only three out of nine regions have received full funding and the other six are now at risk because money is being siphoned off to the Olympics. Will the Minister assure the House that Renaissance in the Regions is not sacrificed to the Olympics?

We on these Benches look forward to a successful Olympic Games and wholeheartedly endorse the idea of the cultural Olympiad. I shall conclude by quoting the Prime Minister, Tony Blair:

“I urge people to support this project because I believe it is good for Britain. It is a display of confidence in the creativity and talents of our people ... It will be a time for the nation to come together to be excited, entertained, moved and uplifted. Visitors from all over the world will have the time of their lives”.

Noble Lords probably think that the Prime Minister is talking about the Olympics. Let me continue:

“In the dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world”.

In raiding the arts and heritage to deliver the hardware of the Olympics, the Government are in danger of failing to deliver on another vision and we are potentially witnessing a lost legacy.

My Lords, I recall with pleasure the days when in the late 1980s I was Minister with responsibility for arts and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, gave me enormous encouragement and help when he was, I think, Secretary of State for Education. I am delighted that he has launched this very important debate because the strength and independence of the arts depends on diversity of funding rather than dependence on any one particular source of funding. Therefore, I was very pleased when in the early 1990s a decision was taken to launch the National Lottery system. I campaigned for it in the early 1990s and I am convinced that it has brought about a very important extra dimension for the arts, certainly to the extent that in the past 13 years it has contributed an extra £2 billion for the arts bodies, covering about 25,000 projects.

Of course, whatever the condition of the lotteries, hard choices and judgments have to be made. Today, we are facing the diversion of £675 million from National Lottery good cause funds. The adverse effect of the withdrawal of money from small arts bodies is, as has already been described, very large indeed. Further, when the budget for the Olympics started at just under £3 billion and today stands at over £9 billion, one does not have a great deal of confidence that it is going to end there; it may escalate further.

The truth is that in this country we are not particularly good at handling large projects. I had some experience of that myself with the British Library. It is a success today, but was a very difficult thing to manage. However, the Millennium Dome, the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood, Wembley Stadium and now the Olympics do not exactly give one a great deal of confidence that they are being managed effectively and well. Indeed, miscalculations and the mismanagement of such projects cause immediate damage to other bodies through the diversion of funds.

However, for me the most striking thing about this judgment is the lack of consistency and the muddled thinking. On the one hand, the Government have announced that alongside the Olympics there is to be a cultural Olympiad with three component parts: ceremonies, major art events and a United Kingdom cultural festival. I welcome most warmly the opportunity it provides for the flowering and regeneration of culture, arts and heritage throughout the country. It is a good boost for the arts. But having announced it, the Government suddenly turn around and hit the arts over the head by saying that funds are going to be cut, thus demoralising and making things very difficult indeed for the 50,000 or so smaller, voluntary arts bodies which do so much to lay the foundation of the arts in this country. I am proud to be president of the Voluntary Arts Network, a body that gives support, advice and encouragement to a large number of these small groups. My support for them stems from the belief that there is an essential interaction between the voluntary and professional arts. A strong voluntary arts provision provides a springboard for expanded arts activities, greater public interest and participation, and support for the professional arts.

We have already heard mention of the criticisms being made by leading figures in the arts world. The chief executive of the Arts Council, Peter Hewitt, has already spoken of the adverse effects this decision will have on small arts bodies, while the director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, said that it is these small bodies which are the lifeblood of creativity in the United Kingdom. Hitting them undermines the future of our major arts institutions.

The Prime Minister’s speech of 6 March has been quoted many times today. Not only did he refer to the need to end boom and bust in culture as well as in the economy, but he also gave a clear commitment to do his best to ensure that any anxieties or concerns over the Comprehensive Spending Review or the claim on resources made by the Olympics could be laid to rest. A week later the Statement was made which led to the massive diversion of funds. To retrieve the situation, I would of course in an ideal world like to see the Government reverse their decision. If that really is not possible, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in his effective intervention based on his experience of the arts and heritage, that one will need to look to the Comprehensive Spending Review and for compensation that way. There are not many other avenues that can be pursued, whether through local government, the Legacy Trust UK fund or the Contingencies Fund. However, if it was possible to divert a small sum from the overall budget for the Olympics, that would help.

The Government are in danger of doing serious damage to an important part of our heritage and arts, and certainly jeopardising the cultural Olympiad. We need assurances from the Minister today that they will tackle this issue urgently and seriously in order to retrieve the situation.

My Lords, I start by declaring three interests, all unpaid, which have a bearing on this debate. I am vice-chairman of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium, a major project built on time and to budget ready for the Rugby World Cup in 1998; I am chairman of the Railway Heritage Committee; and a member of the board of trustees of the National Museum for Science and Industry. I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on initiating this debate, and I should like to say particularly how pleased I am to see the noble Lord, Lord Coe, in his place and how much I look forward to his speech.

Perhaps unlike all other speakers in this debate, I want to make it clear that I supported London’s bid to win the Olympics, and I believe that all those who were involved in the process deserve our praise—none more so than our colleague on the opposite Benches. I have no doubt that the Games will be good for London as well as for Britain because the benefits will spread well outside the capital.

The Government, in their initial response to the report of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in another place published on 24 January, said that they hope that the benefits to the country as a whole will outstrip costs by at least two to one. That is the figure that the Australians claim for the Sydney Games in 2000. I particularly welcome the promise of long-term economic regeneration and the public transport infrastructure improvements which they will bring. I also strongly support the vision for the cultural Olympiad as a festival celebrating the diversity and richness of culture in London, UK and around the world.

But all this, of course, has to be paid for, and that is what the debate today is about. We have heard about how the costs have risen—that is hardly surprising as no Olympic Games in history have cost less than the original estimate—and it is right that everyone should be asked to pay something, including the general taxpayer and the London council tax payer. I can understand why the Government do not wish the burden to fall on any group disproportionately, and the establishment of a specific National Lottery competition for the Olympics has been tried successfully elsewhere.

But it comes at a price and, speaking in regard to my heritage interests, I want to say a word about the Heritage Lottery Fund. It seems that in this process it will lose £161.2 million, not counting any loss of revenue that may come through lower sales of non-Olympic lottery games. I recognise that the effect on heritage projects will probably be more than this because the HLF is particularly effective in acting as a lever for attracting other funds, often on the basis of 50-50.

In my own railway world, there are numerous examples of lottery money being used to good effect—for example, the National Railway Museum’s restoration and display of the Flying Scotsman locomotive, the creation of the Search Engine Archive Centre at York and the construction of the magnificent new Locomotion Museum at Shildon. There are many, many more examples like that. The museums at York and Shildon attract more than 1 million visitors a year between them, very many of them the children from disadvantaged families that are exactly the kind of audience that the DCMS wishes to encourage to use our free national museums.

The HLF makes a huge contribution to heritage railways as well and there are numerous examples of projects which would not have gone ahead without its funding. I refer in particular to the carriage shed and new engine house on the Severn Valley Railway and the new museum building at the Middleton Railway Trust.

No one is saying that all this good work will come to a juddering halt because of the diversion of lottery money to pay for the Olympics, but it is undoubtedly the case that projects will have to be scaled back at least until 2012. As far as the north of England in particular is concerned, there is likely to be a five or six-year hiatus on major heritage projects. The free entry museums will find it particularly difficult to improve themselves during this period because they cannot raise money by increasing admission charges which my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury did so much to get abolished. So it is vital that they should have access to capital elsewhere. In particular, I hope that the Treasury will encourage the regional development agencies to be particularly generous to the regional free entry museums during the period when HLF funding is tight.

The Secretary of State has come in for mixed reviews in the debate so far. I believe that she deserves great credit for ensuring that the projects to be undertaken before 2009 will be unaffected and for undertaking that the lottery will eventually be repaid some of the profits from land sales at Stratford by the London Development Agency after the Games. I understand—perhaps my noble friend will confirm this when he replies—that she has got the Treasury to agree that there will be no further raids on the lottery funds before 2012.

The situation could have been much worse. The Guardian reported that,

“Ms Jowell fought a fierce battle with the Treasury which originally sought to siphon an additional £1.9 billion from the lottery, three times the sum it finally settled on”.

In an article in the Observer on 15 April, the Secretary of State described the arrangement as,

“more of a loan than a withdrawal”.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was a little dismissive of that. Perhaps my noble friend when he replies will say more about how this will work. Certainly if a substantial proportion of the funds which are—shall we say?—“borrowed” are returned later, that will provide some reassurance to those who are concerned about their heritage and other products.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Baker on having introduced this debate about arts and heritage. I declare an interest as chairman of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, the so-called Waverley committee. The purpose of the committee, which is appointed by the Secretary of State, is to advise her about aspects of export control of works of art, particularly in respect of certain individual licences and more generally on the workings of the system. We do that once a year and publish an annual report, which is laid before Parliament. Our role is that of the candid friend. My remarks today will essentially focus on that; they are based on those that I made in the debate on 30 October last year in the Moses Room and on the Minister’s response. I would like, as we lawyers say, to incorporate those by reference into my remarks.

The reviewing committee subsequently discussed that debate. Although policy discussion is obviously confidential, and I do not speak here as chairman of the reviewing committee, I do not think it improper to say that members were of the view that the serious and important points and issues raised in the debate were not properly dealt with in the Minister’s reply. I shall proceed from that starting point.

As my noble friend Lord Baker has said, the lottery was established to do things that it was thought improper to fund from taxation, at least in part. We have been told in terms by the Secretary of State that one of the functions of the Heritage Lottery Fund is to assist with that position. Already there is a problem, and I have every sympathy with the trustees of the fund and their role in the context of the National Heritage Memorial Fund in this regard. They have had to make some very difficult decisions, because you cannot do everything all the time. The simple consequence of the recent developments in lottery funding allocation is that a bad problem will inevitably get worse.

It is important to be clear that the Waverley system, in which I play some part, is a trip wire. It is the line of last resort. It is concerned with objects whose leaving the country would be a national misfortune. With the exception of me, this is not a group of laymen. They are experts and scholars at the top of their respective professions. We are not talking about people taking decisions who are mountebank dealers trying to sell soi-disant “art” to hedge fund managers with huge bonuses. They are the equivalent of the highest expertise in any sphere you may care to find around the country. The objects we are concerned about are by definition important to the cultural capital of this country and of outstanding value to our great institutions, part of whose mission is to acquire objects. We are talking about objects of world importance. They are at the core of the definition of ourselves, Britishness, the role of this country and its reputation in the world.

People talk about price. It is trite to say that the best things are always cheap, but a lot of the inflation in the art market is in areas outside the scope of the committee. Contemporary works of art and things that have not been in Britain or have not existed for more than 50 years are outside the scope of the system. Currently, as I have said, it is not working. Only 60 per cent by number are saved, representing something like 40 per cent by value. We deal with a number of antiquities and archives that are, relatively speaking, inexpensive.

What museums do in this country is popular. We have the Minister’s word for it in the previous debate and, what is more, a recent survey by the National Museum Directors’ Conference shows that 43.5 per cent of people visited museums in 2005-06, the same number as watched sport on television.

The Minister has also said, “We can’t throw money at it”. My instinct is to agree with that, although I ask him to think about it; after all, whatever else you can say about the Olympics, buckets of cash are being chucked at that. The reviewing committee’s work suggests that around 4.5 per cent of the total budget for the Olympics would have enabled this country to acquire every single object that met the Waverley criteria but was subsequently exported since the committee was established in 1952. In other words, in the period between this Olympics and the last time they were held in London, something like 5 per cent of the money involved in the 2012 Games would have acquired everything.

The real answer—I go back to a remark of my noble friend Lord Baker—is that we must look at other ways of funding this. I repeat what the Minister said last time:

“I repeat that these opportunities are there, but they are not being exploited to the full. It weakens any argument for further tax concessions and further help from the Treasury if things that are already in place are simply not used”.—[Official Report, 30/10/06; col. GC 54.]

There is no logic to that. To argue that, because something is not working properly, it should not be changed seems fundamentally illogical. The Treasury is still considering the proposals made by Sir Nicholas Goodison, at its request, about changes to the way in which works of art are acquired in this country. That provides a wonderful opportunity to look at this again. I said so in the previous debate and I say so again now.

In the United States in 2003, according to Giving USA 2004, something like $13.1 billion was given in private donations to the arts. In the UK that would amount to around £1 billion. That is a rough estimate, but it shows what can be done. That is the kind of direction the Government should look to in order to resolve an actual, not a theoretical, problem. There would be no need for debates about this if the Government addressed the issue in that way.

It is sad, but things have come to a pretty pass when Ministers for culture in this country become the apologists for the philistines. I feel very sorry for the Minister as he stands at the Dispatch Box. He is like the hero of Henry Newbolt’s Vitaï Lampada, who, noble Lords will recall, was in the Army, in the desert in the imperial wars:

“The sand in the desert is sodden red,

“Red with the wreck of a square that broke,

“The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,

“And the regiment blind with dust and smoke”.

And what is in the noble Lord’s ministerial brief? It is:

“Play up! play up! and play the game!”.

My Lords, when I saw that this subject was going to be debated, I had not decided what I expected to come out of it. Ever since the Olympics became a subject for debate, there have been groups saying, “What about us? What about our good cause? How will we suffer? Will we lose our piece of cake?” I am afraid it looks as though a piece of that cake has gone.

Ever since the lottery was introduced, the Government have treated it as something that will pay for everything and have wanted another cut. The noble Lord referred to four good causes—originally it was two or three, but there has been constant expansion. Ultimately, the lottery cannot carry everything and, to mix metaphors like mad, it may well be a case of straws and camels’ backs. How can it carry on expanding?

Camelot is not an organisation that ever underplays its achievements. It has said:

“The only way to mitigate any decrease in returns to other Good Causes is to maximise overall sales”.

It also says that it cannot mitigate everything; it will struggle to make up any loss over time.

We are where we are. I have always been a vigorous supporter of the Olympic Games. They are all-embracing and bring people in; they are not just a championship but can be a celebration and achievement. If the cultural Olympiad buys into this, there will be a tremendous celebration—at least, it has that potential. We must make sure that we bring everything in. However, we are peddling the myth that all the small groups at the base of the pyramid will have every type of support cut away. There will be no celebration, no matter what bricks and mortar we have in place, what achievements and medals are gained, if everybody who has a stake in the sporting or cultural process feels constantly under pressure to defend their operations. That is where we stand. When the RSPB starts sending brief to sports spokesmen, that means that word has got out. These are not normal subjects for my postbag. The Government must address this fear. The greatest things about the Olympics—the enthusiasm and burst of energy released—are now drifting away. We can bandy about figures until we are blue in the face, but unless we address the drift and squeeze, something will have to give. We can have the event without the successes; that is something to bear in mind.

Will the Government now confirm that this will be the last time we cut into lottery funds? Then we can start to rebuild the consensus and sense of purpose. If that happens, we can then go forward. Also, can we ensure that grassroots organisations are made sure of where they stand in the scheme of things—in the food chain?

The Central Council of Physical Recreation is worried that its budget will also be cut into. When the base of the sporting pyramid is worried about what will happen, we must do something. People will be introduced to sport not only by the 2012 Games but in 2016 and 2020, and if it is a true success, it will inspire people to go on. We must establish a tradition of better training and competition facilities at home. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not allow any further squeezing of these factors? Young sportsmen going on to be international athletes may want to go to a museum when they are finished. Let us stop the idea that these groups are not complementary; they are part of the pattern of life. We must promote the idea of the Games as central and part of the whole. Will the Minister guarantee that that idea will be defended by not allowing the whole basis to be squeezed?

My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on obtaining this debate and thank him for giving me a particular opportunity that I would like to seize. I will not engage in discussion of the Olympics versus art because I personally believe that there must be room for both. I am more interested in talking about the residual impact of possible cuts in funding to the arts, and will focus on one area in particular. I am encouraged to do so by a statement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that,

“the work of the Koestler Trust is essential to humanising our prison and detention system … Arthur Koestler’s vision was far ahead of his time”.

What was Arthur Koestler’s vision? He was a political prisoner on three occasions and recognised the power of the arts in building self-esteem among prisoners to encourage them to be involved in work, education and training and to help them to lead more positive lives by motivating them to participate in the arts. The Koestler Trust, which was founded in his name, is the UK's national charity for awarding, exhibiting and selling artwork by offenders. In last year's exhibition, there were 4,330 entries in 53 different art forms submitted from prisons, young offender institutions, secure units, high security psychiatric hospitals, probation and youth offending teams and immigration removal centres. I declare an interest as the former chairman of the trust.

Referring to the impact of this on an individual, a former award winner who is now a professional artist said:

“The Koestler exhibition took my work and a part of me out of the confines of the prison. You need to be an inmate to comprehend what this means”.

That was the situation until last year. On 23 January this year, the Koestler Trust received a letter from the social inclusion and offenders unit in the Department for Education and Skills, which read:

“As we signalled to you last year … this year is the last in which we will make grants available to individual voluntary community sector organisations”.

The trust had received a grant of £45,000 every year for the past 25 and more years to help it mount the exhibition, which amounts to about 15 per cent of the trust's costs. It was paid by the Home Office until responsibility was passed to the Department for Education and Skills. The department went on to say that the Government had published a next steps document, which makes no mention of the arts. The National Offender Management Service’s arts strategy has been awaited for over a year. DfES officials confirmed that the Koestler Trust’s work is unlikely to meet the criteria for its funding because it is run on a national basis and now all funding has to be obtained on a regional basis. It ended with the following platitudinous remarks:

“I would like to thank you very much for the work you have undertaken on our behalf and the contribution it has made to the development of this important policy of gender. We believe that the voluntary and community sector has a very important role to play and along with our partners we will continue to work with them to deliver our strategy. I know that we still have work to do together and look forward to receiving the final report from the work you have undertaken for us this year. I am sure this will be helpful to the cross government group overseeing development of the arts strategy”.

There was no mention of what preventing reoffending and helping prisoners to gain the self-esteem to do that meant in terms of protecting the public.

What worries me is that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Arts Council, which I would have expected to take a lead in tackling this national problem, unfortunately have been very quiet on all this. I do not believe that the delivery of the arts should be funded merely by the Department for Education and Skills; therefore, my plea to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is to realise the long-term and residual damage caused by this move, which could be avoided. I have to question what the Government expect will be achieved for other purposes in taking the miserable sum of £45,000 away from something which achieves so much. Have the Government ever considered using their own resources to run a competition to encourage prisoners in the creative arts and to mount an exhibition of prisoners’ work, bearing in mind what the Koestler Trust has done on behalf of this Government and former Governments over the past 50 years?

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for initiating this debate. I appreciate that its thrust is about the effect of the transfer of lottery funding on heritage and the arts. However, I wish to take the opportunity to make some comments about the implications of the transfer of lottery funds in another area of DCMS responsibility; namely, community sport.

I have over the past year participated in a parliamentary fellowship scheme which has enabled me to spend a number of days with Sport England in different parts of the country, and to see at first hand how the resources it has to promote and develop community sport in partnership with a wide range of organisations and authorities—public, private and voluntary—have been used, and with what effect.

I believe that around 30 per cent of Sport England’s funding has gone to voluntary and community organisations over the lifetime of the lottery. So while the Government have sought to protect Big Lottery Fund resources to the voluntary and community sector, funds that come to this sector through an organisation such as Sport England will not be protected. Consequently, the decision to divert a further £55.9 million of Sport England’s share of lottery income between 2009 and 2012 to fund the Olympic and Paralympic Games, on top of Sport England’s share of the already agreed £410 million Olympic lottery contribution, runs the risk of having an adverse impact on the delivery of one of the objectives of the 2012 bid, which was to build a legacy from the Games by increasing participation in sport and boosting community sport across the country. In reality, the cut is greater because Sport England levers in almost £3 for every £1 of investment it provides.

If new funding is not secured, Sport England will have to lower its 2012 goal of getting 2 million people participating more in sport. Greater participation in sport has many benefits. It improves physical health and well-being and is an important factor in the efforts to reduce obesity. It provides an activity in which people of all ages, including those with a disability, can participate and achieve and gain self-confidence and self-esteem as well as enjoy themselves. Participation in sport also provides an opportunity for those whose activities either have been or might otherwise be of a less socially acceptable nature to find more productive and satisfying ways of spending their time, while also developing the skills of self-control, self-discipline, team working and facing and meeting challenges. The work that Sport England does is an integral part of the Government’s agenda for both a healthier, more active nation and for reducing crime, including reducing reoffending. Its work also enhances quality of life.

The Government are, of course, entitled to expect that a body such as Sport England will do more than simply draw attention to the likely consequences of the transfer of lottery funds. Sport England is looking to find ways of raising £50 million, through working with the private sector to increase investment in community sports facilities as well as encouraging the private sector to offer its skills and expertise to local sports clubs in the communities that they serve. Advice and practical help can be invaluable in just the same way as qualified coaches and instructors and capital investment in sports facilities. It will also be working with the Football Association and the Football Foundation to create sports hubs, involving community and commercial activities.

If Sport England, through its own efforts, can find from elsewhere resources to replace lottery money that it will now no longer receive—and it is determined to do so—it will still be able to achieve its 2012 goal of increasing participation in sport. If, despite all efforts, it is unable to secure those resources, expectations and ambitions will have to be pared back. Is it intended at some later date after the Olympics have been held to provide Sport England with the lottery funding that it would have had but which has now been diverted? If so, would it be inflation-proofed, and would that funding be given irrespective of whether Sport England had raised additional resources through its own efforts?

I am sure that I will be no different from anyone else in taking great pleasure and pride in our hoped-for successes in the 2012 Games by our elite sportsmen and sportswomen. I am sure that I will be no different from anyone else in wanting the organisation and running of the Games and the facilities and infrastructure to be nothing other than a credit to ourselves as a nation. Achieving that needs money; and the effects of any significant paring back in that regard would become all too obvious in 2012, when we will be the focus of searching international attention. I recognise the issues that the Government face over funding, and I imagine when my noble friend responds that he will remind us quite rightly, justifiably, and with pride, of the considerably increased support that the Government have provided to sport both in schools and in the community at large.

One of the consequences of that commendable record is that inevitably the bar is raised as far as expectations are concerned. The new, much higher levels of funding become the new base line for developing community sport and participation levels below which it now becomes unacceptable that we should fall. I am sure that is one reason why Sport England is determined to try to make up the reduction through its own efforts. The demands on its resources will not fall, and neither will the expectations on those through whom, in partnership, Sport England seeks to achieve its goals, which have the full support, backing and approval of the Government. I hope that Sport England will continue to make its case to the Government on behalf of community sport, and I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at it, particularly if Sport England, despite its endeavours, finds itself unable to make up all the shortfall in its lottery funding.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Baker on securing the debate. I declare my interest as chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, an organisation that is charged with the staging of those Games. I remind noble Lords that it is an organisation that raises all its income from the private sector.

I will take a few moments today to reflect on the place that culture and heritage have in our planning for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. I can do no better than to restate the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, when I say that I, too, do not understate how great the opportunity to host the Games in 2012 is for all of us across the United Kingdom. From 2008 onwards, when the Mayor of London is handed the Olympic flag in Beijing during its closing ceremony—and we have our opportunity to take eight minutes in that closing ceremony—the eyes of the world will be upon us as our Olympiad begins. Few, if any, global events generate the excitement and enthusiasm that the Games generate. They are a demonstration of humanity, challenge and engagement.

Our achievement in winning the right to host the Games in 2012 was underpinned by people the length and breadth of the country, including those in the cultural community. The backing and active support of our talented musicians, artists, actors and our creative industries sat comfortably and crucially alongside the support and visibility of our iconic sports men and women. That help and support for our bid will never be forgotten.

London’s Games present us all with a unique opportunity, whether we work in sport or cultural activity, to reach out across our communities, to enjoy, to participate, to push and challenge ourselves, and to inspire—just as I was inspired as a 12 year-old watching the Mexico Games in 1968 on a black and white television.

The London Games will be different for many reasons, one of which is the emphasis that we place on leaving a sustainable legacy after the Games have gone—not just in bricks and mortar, but in culture and sport. The slightly dismissive comments—if I may say so—of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on the historic role of sport in the socio-cultural process reminded me all too readily of my time as a deputy chairman of the UK Sports Council for a few years in the 1980s. At that time, I found it difficult to engage the artistic and cultural community in meaningful dialogue. In fairness, it was not always easy to convince my sporting colleagues that there was a coalition of interest between sport and the arts.

I was not successful then, but I am determined that we should be successful now. Why is this important to us? Baron Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Games, had a vision based around the idea of a healthy body and a healthy mind. He believed, as I do, in the inextricable link between sport, culture and education. That is the foundation of our vision for the London 2012 Games—a vision that has never just been about a summer of sport. We want the Games to transcend the traditional boundaries that have often stood between sport and culture and, often paradoxically, have prevented them reaching out together to the most disadvantaged and isolated in society.

Harnessing the power and the spirit of the Games and the excitement and passion that they generate can underpin and help to unlock opportunities for cultural activity in the UK that have simply not existed before. From first-hand experience of the numerous visits that I make across the UK each month, I know that there is enormous excitement, interest and support for the Games in our schools, village halls, community centres, local authorities, theatres and galleries.

The questions that I am most often asked are: “How can we play a part?” and “How can we be involved?”. There is no way that the organising committee alone can provide answers; we never intended to be a one-stop shop. We recognised from the start that, with help from the cultural sector, we needed to work in partnership. That is our template. Nor should we forget that we have a four-year opportunity in the global spotlight to showcase the best of our vibrant arts, culture and heritage. That is what we are now working on to deliver.

Our director of culture, Bill Morris, has travelled across the country and has spoken with more than 3,000 people. He met with huge enthusiasm and, at the end of his travels, the message was unambiguous. There is enormous excitement about the opportunities that a UK-wide, four-year cultural festival will bring. That will include ceremonies—not, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, a government project, but a duty set out by the International Olympic Committee that has been readily accepted by the local organising committee and enshrined in our host city contract.

That celebration will begin in 2008 and will run until the opening ceremony in London. In every area of the UK, cultural groups—large and small; local, regional and national—are working right now on ideas for exhibitions, concerts and festivals. They are wonderfully innovative projects inspired by the Games. Projects as varied as an international Shakespeare festival, a world festival of youth culture, a celebration of film and video and a UK-wide exhibition programme are all being developed, and there is so much more to come.

The partnership and enthusiasm also extends to the official business partners for London. Lloyds TSB, our first domestic partner, is already looking at ways in which it can be involved in the cultural Olympiad as a way of activating its Games involvement.

I remain optimistic that over the next five years—to 2012—we will be able to bring new, additional funding into the cultural sector, both from public and private sources. Our own culture team will be announcing plans for the culture Olympiad shortly. We are still five years ahead of the Games, which is the right time to be planning. I thank your Lordships for allowing me to share what I hope you will see is the full extent of our ambition and the opportunities available to us from hosting the London 2012 Games, an event which for all of us will always be so much more than simply sport.

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on securing the debate and on the role that he has personally played in supporting the arts in our country. I also thank him for his rollicking, frolicking contributions in this House, which are always a joy to listen to.

First, I declare my interests. I am a trustee of the British Museum, a patron of the Tricycle Theatre and chair of Arts & Business. I wish to speak particularly about the role of the private sector in enhancing the cultural life of our nations in the United Kingdom.

We have good reason for rejoicing in Britain’s cultural output. Public financing is crucial to this success, but it is not the whole story in the ecology of cultural funding. This success would not be possible without a huge private sector contribution and this contribution cannot happen without the essential work of Arts & Business. It behoves a civilised Government to invest properly in the arts. The present Government have a proud record in this respect. From 1999 to 2005, the increasing investment in the arts, year by year, was one of the most important things that this Government have achieved. Yet we see that our spending on culture and its consequences amounts to only 0.6 per cent of our national income—the loose change of government spending.

There has been a lot of rumour and fanfare on the transfer of lottery funds, but a crucial element has largely been neglected, which I want to distil. We cannot assume that there will ever be enough public sector funding for the arts. Recently, an Arts & Business publication warned of the further demise of cultural funding from local authorities.

By recognising and celebrating the role of the commercial sector and of individual philanthropists, we can avoid the current dependency on a single line of finance and find more effective new ways to resource the arts, be they showcasing artists as cultural entrepreneurs, making venture philanthropy work for the arts, rolling out new tax campaigns, or signposting responsible cultural practice. Indeed, in the next two months, Arts & Business will launch a major initiative to stimulate greater giving in the City of London. Arts & Business has the crucial knowledge, pioneering ideas and research capability to show us all how to embed corporate cultural responsibility.

The point that I want to emphasise is that it is only by investing in Arts & Business that we shall uncover the best ways to tap into the commercial sector to further augment the success of the cultural sector. The Government have to champion and promote the role of the private sector in supporting the arts in the run-up to London 2012. The arts world does not want to undertake endless juggling to keep the show on the road or to eke out temporary solutions to funding issues. The corporate world can help, but it needs assistance to enable it to do that.

I mentioned earlier the essential work conducted by Arts & Business, and I want to highlight the five valuable roles that we play. In 1976, the amount of business investment in the arts stood at £600,000; it now touches £150 million. When you add in funding from private individuals, which is £262 million, and money coming in from trusts and foundations— £113 million—the figures rise to £525 million a year. Arts & Business creates the environment to make this happen, and the annual Arts & Business awards showcase outstanding examples of what happens when culture and commerce connect.

Corporate engagement is not about simply writing a cheque, however. It uses the skills, be they marketing, legal, financial, branding or sponsorship, which can be offered by businesspeople to the cultural sector. Last year alone, Arts & Business placed over 5,500 business volunteers in arts organisations. This work is worth just under £4 million. Arts & Business trains the cultural community with over 12,000 fundraising executives in the arts, learning how to prosper within the commercial sector. People do not just pick this up easily; that have to learn how to do it. Arts & Business’s research shows that 83 per cent of cultural organisations would have reduced audiences had they not received private investment.

To all this work, however, Arts & Business needs seed funding from central government to help us to foster initiatives and long-term partnerships between business and the arts through investment. We therefore cannot have cuts to our core funding. Clearly, a lot of learning has taken place since Arts & Business was first launched. Big institutions such as the National Theatre and the Tate Gallery can now go directly to the corporate sector for money, but that is not the case with any of the lesser-known arts organisations or those of medium size. As a network, Arts & Business covers the whole of the United Kingdom and employs over 100 people to efficiently run programmes and projects tailored to local conditions and needs, bringing together the commercial and arts worlds.

I believe in London 2012 as a great enterprise, and want to welcome the world to celebrate London and the whole of the United Kingdom. I want us to inspire our young people with that venture. But we must ensure that there is no reduction of culture to that end. I hope that when the Chancellor and his successor are thinking about the spending review later this year, they in no way cut the funds of Arts & Business. Culture matters at all levels within our society, and investing in it works. But in order to do the business that we do in Arts & Business, bringing commercial money into the arts sector, we must be well funded in our own right. I press those matters on the Government and hope that we can have an assurance from the Minister that we will not be facing cuts towards the end of the year.

My Lords, I make this speech having returned from a test match where, for those who are interested, the teatime score is 158 for 2 for England. However, there was also much disquiet there about the cuts in grants to grass-roots cricket. During the next few weeks, I shall visit an event at Salisbury Festival, which is in danger of being cancelled next year, after 25 years, because of further cuts in grants. I shall worship in the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral, which will have its funding slashed—one of the great catastrophes of the freeze on English Heritage expenditure. Yet, on Saturday, I shall go to the FA Cup Final at Wembley, an edifice of gross mismanagement and overspend, overseen by this Government.

I applaud my noble friend Lord Baker for organising this debate. I also declare an interest as a current and former board member and trustee of several arts museums and organisations, and chairman of a pressure group called the Sports Nexus. The 2012 Olympics receives my full support. I applaud the Government—although I can also criticise them—and my noble friend Lord Coe for bringing the Games to London.

But I am afraid that, when the dead hand of government gets involved in a project, it demonstrates its incompetence. We cannot run away from the fact that there have been incompetent budgeting and a failure to learn from the mistakes of other major projects. When budgeting, could anyone in the modern financial world not have taken into consideration building inflation, land price inflation, transport cost inflation and the cost of security? They surely cannot live in London. It would be easy to criticise only the so-called Minister for Culture, but this financial fiasco has the dead hand of the Chancellor on it. It is the Chancellor who is charging VAT of £1 billion, whereas the Commonwealth Games in Manchester did not have to pay VAT, and it is the Chancellor who has had to sanction the original costing and the revised costings at every juncture, having been guided by the Treasury. My goodness, how we look forward to greater things!

We have found ourselves in a situation where, as other noble Lords have enunciated in this Chamber, Peter is being robbed to pay Paul. Who are the Peters? They are the Walnut Whip Peters, the London citizens who Ken Livingstone famously said would not have to pay more than the price of a Walnut Whip for the London Olympics. I fancy that we will be charged for a boxful. Then there are the arts Peters, whose spending allocation is about to be frozen: museums, galleries, local community arts initiatives, local sports facilities, grass-roots sports and, of course, our heritage, including 16,000 churches and all our cathedrals, which are totally dependent on the Government and the lottery for money and support. There are also Peters who think that when they buy a lottery ticket the money will go through an independently run venture for distribution to a number of causes. It is hard to imagine that this freezing of expenditure could have affected so many special interest groups.

A number of questions remain unanswered. Can the Minister furnish us with the answers? I support my noble friend Lord Baker in asking his question. Miss Tessa Jowell said that £675 million will be venture capital, and that it would be a loan from the lottery. What is that about? If it is a loan, it will need to be paid back, so what are the terms? If it is venture capital, the capital is ventured with a view to making a profit. Can we have a straight edge on this? The Secretary of State talked about the profit from the sale of land after the Olympics. Can we have more details of her plan, and do her recent figures include anticipated profit from the sale to mitigate the cost or will it, in fact, reduce the cost?

The much heralded Olympic scratch card was going to raise £750 million in addition to other lottery spending, but recent figures from the National Audit Office show that 80 per cent of the money being raised from scratch cards is to the detriment of other lottery fundraising initiatives. What steps are going to be taken to reverse that trend?

I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Baker that we have not seen the end of this spending mismanagement because there is no sound commercial strategy in place to reverse this trend. Can we have a guarantee that this is the final bill?

It is a tragedy that an event that cost only £2 billion in Sydney—which many people say was the best Games ever—is currently going to cost nearly five times as much in London. Only in a new Labour world do sport and the arts become worse off as a result of London staging the greatest sporting event on Earth.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on sponsoring this important debate. In doing so, I must take issue with him over his contrast between the athlete and the aesthete. He suggested that they were mutually exclusive, but I do not believe that. The achievements of Bannister and Best will long outlive them in the same way as those of Burns and Betjeman have outlived them. It is wrong to counterpoise the two.

I was as thrilled as anyone when I learnt two years ago that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and his team had won the contest to bring the 2012 Olympics to the UK. I want the Games to be viewed in retrospect as the best ever staged, but, I have to say, not at any costs. And, as ever, where there are winners, there are of course losers.

I want to introduce something of a Scottish dimension to the effects of the funding decisions made by the Government. I have real concerns over the diversion of lottery funds from good causes to pay for the rising costs of the Games. I am not one of those who believe that Scotland will gain nothing due to the fact that it is 400 miles north of where most of the Games are to be staged, because I think that many young people will be inspired into taking up some form of physical activity, if not, indeed, organised sport.

As part of the Games bid, the National Lottery pledged to contribute £1.5 billion towards the costs of the Games, a sum that has been estimated to mean a reduction in funding for good causes in Scotland alone of around £80 million. In January this year, a further £900 million increase was highlighted. Big Lottery Fund Scotland estimated that an increase of that amount would add a further £50 million to the costs across Scotland.

For illustration, a £51 million reduction in funding for good causes would be equivalent to closing the BIG Scotland small grants fund, known as Awards for All, for six years, perhaps resulting in as many as 10,000 projects going unfunded and facing almost certain closure. To put that into perspective, there are around 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland, so a shortfall of funds that led to 10,000 projects going unfunded would hit the sector very hard.

Two months ago, the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, announced that, to cover some of the costs in the budget, £675 million would be taken from National Lottery budgets, including, as we have heard, £425 million from the Big Lottery Fund. Assurances were given at the time that this would come not from funding for voluntary and community organisations but from the 30 per cent of the Big Lottery Fund that goes to statutory bodies. The point has not emerged sufficiently clearly from this debate that while these assurances will mean—if they are adhered to—that voluntary organisations do not lose out in direct funding, they will nevertheless suffer a heavy hit indirectly, because a considerable amount of the 30 per cent that goes to statutory bodies is in turn used by those bodies to fund voluntary projects.

That point is reinforced in a letter sent to noble Lords participating in this debate by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Heritage Link, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Voluntary Arts Network. Their joint letter spells out their concern that similar protection has not been provided for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups that apply for funds from Arts Council England, Sport England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ equivalent north of the Border, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, has echoed these very real worries as to the future of third sector provision in its widest sense, including cultural and sporting provision. The Government surely must listen and act to ensure that these fears are not realised.

It is appropriate that the lottery should make a contribution to the staging of the Games, but it is inappropriate that it should subsequently be used as a soft touch to bail out cost increases that, to some extent at least, should have been anticipated by the Government and the Games organisers. That pitfall was identified by the CMS Select Committee in January of this year, when it published its report on the funding and legacy of the Games. It stated:

“We believe that any further diversion of money from the Lottery would reduce the money available for each of the good causes, and it is not our preferred option for funding any overspend”.

I do not know whether the Minister read that report, but just two months later, as we know, Tessa Jowell announced precisely that. There was concern at the time about the projected cultural Olympiad. Noble Lords have referred to Baron de Coubertin and the fact that the modern Olympics at the start had a cultural input. Of course the Greeks themselves in the ancient Olympics had that, too; the role of Euripides is well recorded. But Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre was quoted last month as saying about the cultural Olympiad for 2012,

“There’s no money and there’s no plan”.

That may have been the case as he saw it at the time, but it was encouraging that Tessa Jowell announced that £28 million from the legacy fund would be provided towards the cultural Olympiad. That will go a long way towards providing what I believe is necessary, although it should be put in context by saying that Sydney had £29 million for its cultural Olympiad and costs have risen somewhat in the 10-year period.

I make one point about the National Lottery operator Camelot, which comes in for criticism, sometimes justifiably. However, as far as the company’s role in raising its share of additional funds through the lottery is concerned, it has to be stated that it is more than playing its part, as it is ahead of schedule for the designated lottery games. But there is a cloud on the horizon, as the CMS Select Committee highlighted. Camelot’s licence comes up for renewal in 2009. The question must be asked: what would happen if it were to lose the licence? Of course, the resources and time of its staff will have to go to seeking renewal, but if it should lose it, we could lose the momentum in the income that has built up from the lottery games. That would be unfortunate. I agree with the committee’s suggestion that Camelot’s licence should have been allowed to continue until after the Games, but that is no longer possible. What do the Government intend to do if there is that shortfall or loss of momentum in funding, should Camelot lose its licence?

Finally, very briefly, I have two points. Where would the money come from if not from the sources that we have been discussing today? The Treasury should look long and hard at the 12 per cent that it takes on every pound that goes to the lottery. Given that the Olympics were last held in this country in 1948 and will now be held here in 2012, we will probably have to wait half a century before they return. Therefore, it can be seen as a one-off event. The Treasury should reduce or even waive that amount to produce additional funding.

Secondly, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the Comprehensive Spending Review is already under way. I understand that the DCMS has the smallest budget of any government department, so, as my noble friend Lord Smith said, it is vital that it is not reduced. Again, perhaps it should be treated as a special case. I hope that when the Minister and his colleagues, when they are in negotiation with the Treasury as part of the CSR, will push that case very strongly and I hope, for the country and the Olympics in 2012, that they have success.

My Lords, I am especially grateful that my noble friend Lord Baker was successful in the ballot for this debate and for how he introduced it.

I declare an interest as a trustee and chief executive of a charitable trust preserving the finest castle ruin in the north of Scotland, the only castle in Scotland to be listed by the World Monument Fund on its watch list, published every two years, of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. It has received two small grants from HLF and may receive more in future. I am also a trustee of other heritage and arts charities that are likely to apply to the HLF. Like many, I was a keen sportsman in a number of games but never at a high level, and still enjoy watching a variety of sports.

The HLF has been a huge success and this country has benefited in a number of ways from its work. We owe it a vote of thanks for what it has done in the past, but its role has changed and the future is bleak. I, for one, was never a fan of the British bid to host the Olympics in London and my heart sank when the decision was made. It was abundantly clear to me even then that the Government had significantly underestimated the projected costs and that, as a result, we would all end up paying considerably more than envisaged. I anticipate more rises in costs and, doubtless, more cuts for the arts and heritage, whatever the Minister says today.

Whether the unrealistic bid was deliberate or naive has not been proven, but I have no doubt which it was. Imagine submitting such an application to the HLF for a project. If one went back to the HLF shortly after a grant had been agreed and said that the costs were nearly three times the estimate, one can visualise its reaction. Some cost changes are always likely with a major project, but a trebling in the space of a year? No one in the private sector could behave in that way and get away with it, but the Government can, because they are abusing other people's money in an unethical way.

Let us be clear about the consequences of that unhappy situation. The Olympic infrastructure will take one-sixth of the lottery pot during the years between London winning the bid and the Games. The HLF will lose £161.2 million, as well as revenue through reduced sales of non-Olympic lottery games. Its share of lottery tickets will drop by more than 10 per cent between 2007-08 and 2011-12. In real terms, it will be considerably more.

The heritage of our country is being severely jeopardised and the damage has already started. The HLF business plan shows that, in 2004-05, Scotland was allocated £14.2 million for grants under £2 million. By 2007-08, that has already been slashed to £12.1 million. When the extra contribution of £90 million was taken by the DCMS this March, the HLF announced that, rather than making deeper short-term cuts, it would absorb the impact over a longer period, so the pain will continue past 2012. There is no possible way in which the HLF will be able to support the full range of heritage projects that people care about.

What will all this mean for grant applicants? To date, the HLF has generally been able to fund all good projects that have come to it. Rejected projects have generally been those with perceived weaknesses. This has changed, however, and we have begun to see that the HLF rejects not only projects with perceived weaknesses but good projects. Furthermore, the HLF’s shift of emphasis from preserving pure heritage projects to those with substantial community involvement, and its increasing use of apparently arbitrary economic considerations to justify refusing a project, are a severe threat to the more rural heritage projects, especially where there is no local or national authority involvement.

All this is having a series of adverse consequences. In addition to the direct effect of good projects not going ahead, we are beginning to see that good concepts are not being developed into good projects, as project promoters—be they local authorities, national institutions, or, as many noble Lords have said, independent trusts in particular—reassess their chances of securing project funding. If even good projects are not to be funded, why bother to incur the significant development costs? As an immediate response, the HLF must cut the development costs and provide meaningful feedback before organisations have to spend upwards of £500,000 developing some of the large projects.

There will, of course, be a wider impact in loss of opportunity. How can we have a serious debate on cultural entitlement, built on the foundations of what the HLF has achieved to date, and then starve it of investment capital? The effects of this loss of opportunity will be felt nationally, regionally and locally. The UK’s reputation has undoubtedly been enhanced by cultural projects; the Tate Modem is a great example. Regionally, Kelvingrove, the Museum of Scotland and the National Waterfront Museum in Wales are all evidence of the wide impact of lottery funding. Locally, many communities have benefited from revenue and capital projects. This has increased tourism and local spend, which, particularly in rural areas, has been vital in keeping communities together and offering job opportunities.

To some, the Olympics may be very worthwhile, but why must we jeopardise the national, regional and local impact of National Lottery Fund projects for a package of benefits that in no way replaces these? The impact on funding from now to beyond 2012 has robbed the heritage and arts sectors of much of the vitality engendered by lottery funding. The loss of funding will create a legacy from which it will take considerable time to recover, even if investment returns to pre-Olympic levels once the Games are over.

My Lords, the debate focuses on the arts and cultural heritage, which are close to my heart. It is most timely, because it leaves the Government with time to do something about it. I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for introducing it in his usual forthright and inimitable style. I feel a certain sympathy in advance for the Minister who is to reply, especially as he was under attack yesterday at Question Time on the same subject.

My starting point is the recognised importance of our cultural heritage. In this, our great musical institutions, orchestras, ballet, theatre and, of course, museums have all succeeded in enabling us to hold our heads high in the world, despite scarce and diminishing resources. I declare my interest as a former trustee of National Museums Liverpool. Liverpool is, of course, famous for football and horseracing, but it also enjoys a reputation for music—it has the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, as well as pop—for theatre, and for its famous Walker Art Gallery and Merseyside Maritime Museum. The Merseyside Maritime Museum also embraces a slavery museum, which we talked about last week. The city also has Tate Liverpool—the Tate of the north—and other specialist museums and galleries. As a member of the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I point to the Churchill Museum, which is not far from here, in the Cabinet War Rooms, which last year won the Council of Europe museum prize for using new technology and brilliant design to drive its message home. What has been achieved despite increasingly difficult and diminishing funding is wholly admirable, and many more examples have been quoted today. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, the role of museums and the arts in complementing our education system, particularly in the light of the national curriculum introduced during my noble friend Lord Baker’s stint as Secretary of State for Education, is vital.

Since the lottery fund was introduced in 1994 to support projects that would not otherwise be funded through general taxation, it has performed a very useful role. But I believe that people who buy lottery tickets do so on the basis that they are providing alternative and additional funding for the arts; they do not just hope to win the big prize or to make up for deficits in government funding.

I also find it very difficult—I think other noble Lords have also said this—to understand how other countries can provide government support through direct government funding or tax and other incentives, and we cannot. Therefore, can the Minister give us any encouragement that more thought will be given to alternative methods of providing finance or that there will be more support for something like Arts & Business, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred?

My concern is that the Government give greater priority to sport than to our cultural heritage and the arts. For example, two days ago a Question was asked concerning Liverpool’s role as European Capital of Culture in 2008. Comparisons were made with the special funding provided for the extra policing of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. In defending the Government’s decision not to provide similar extra funding to Liverpool, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said:

“Liverpool asked for this honour and was lucky enough to get it”.—[Official Report, 15/5/07; col. 120.]

That is perfectly true, but the implication of that remark was, “So they’re on their own”. Is this a question of sport versus the arts or is it a question of London versus Liverpool?

The astronomical growth in the projected cost of the Olympics should not come as a surprise. I have to confess that I was also one—obviously in a minority here today—who felt that Paris would have been quite close enough for the Olympic Games. Nevertheless, since our bid did succeed, I believe that we have to make the best of it and, as a London council tax payer, I am prepared to pay that extra whack. But I do not wish to see the arts suffer as a consequence. I look forward to hearing more about the plans for the cultural Olympiad, to which my noble friend Lord Coe and others have referred, about which announcements are shortly to be made. Having attended the cultural Olympiad in Barcelona three years ago, I hope that we will be able to build on that success and that there will be adequate funds to do so. More immediately, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, along with many other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on initiating this debate. It was a pleasure to listen to his incisive speech. It was also a great pleasure to listen to the speeches of other noble Lords, who displayed an impressive range of knowledge, expertise and, above all, commitment in so many areas of the arts, heritage and sport.

What particularly sticks in the throats of many noble Lords in this debate is, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, the Prime Minister’s speech at the Tate Modern, which promised no return to boom and bust in funding for the arts. It was a very short time ago, in March, that the bitter realisation set in that he is presiding in his final weeks over a cut in funding for arts, heritage and grassroots sports that will endanger the long-term cultural health of the nation.

In March, the Secretary of State announced that a further £675 million, as we have heard from many noble Lords, would be diverted from the National Lottery good causes funds to meet the increased costs of the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a grim day for arts, heritage and grassroots sports. This new diversion means that some £2.2 billion will go towards the Games from the National Lottery. That is 20 per cent of lottery income for good causes from 2005 to 2012-13. After 2009, the proposed transfer of £675 million breaks down as £425 million from the Big Lottery Fund and £250 million from the other good causes.

We have heard from all sides of the House how important lottery funds are to charities and voluntary and community groups in the arts, heritage and sport. The Heritage Lottery Fund estimates that, in 2005-06, 55 per cent of its lottery awards were made to this sector. Arts Council England estimates that it awarded about 60 per cent of its budget to the voluntary and community sector, while Sport England estimates that some 30 per cent of its funding has gone to voluntary and community organisations over the lifetime of the lottery. What does this mean in cash terms? Heritage charities stand to lose out on almost £50 million, arts charities on over £37 million, and sports charities on £16 million, which is a total loss of over £100 million.

The Secretary of State’s Statement in March said that:

“We have also agreed with the Big Lottery Fund that resources for the voluntary sector will be protected and will, as it expects, continue to receive the £2 billion from the Big Lottery Fund between now and 2012”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/07; col. 452.]

That voluntary and community organisations will not be affected is of only limited consolation. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, rightly pointed out, much of the funding to local authorities and statutory recipients of funds from the Big Lottery Fund now being cut actually goes to arts, community and voluntary organisations. Further, the diversion affects recipients through other lottery distributors such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Sport England.

Total awards from the Heritage Lottery Fund will fall from £255 million in 2007-08 to £220 million in 2008-09, and £180 million per year from 2009. Heritage Link, the Voluntary Arts Network, CCPR, the umbrella organisations for thousands of voluntary bodies in heritage, arts and sports, together with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which has over 5,000 members from the voluntary sector, are campaigning against the diversion of lottery funds. Members on these Benches and clearly many other noble Lords support the urgent call by these organisations on the Government to reconsider and to give assurances that no such further raids will be made.

A loss of £62 million over four years to Arts Council England, a loss of £55 million to Sport England, and the loss to the Heritage Lottery Fund of £90 million will do great damage, despite the enormous care being taken by the HLF and other distributors to try and mitigate their losses. The loss to the HLF, for example, is equivalent to the loss of four years’ spending on smaller community and voluntary sector grants and the entire spending aimed at involving younger people—some 6,000 projects. That is a loss equivalent to the planned spend on churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth for four years—some 1,400 projects. It is a loss the equivalent of five years’ funding for parks, which in the past have included Birkenhead park in the Wirral, Tollcross park in Glasgow and Lurgan park in Northern Ireland.

The HLF warned the Public Accounts Committee, which is inquiring into a National Audit Office report on the lottery distributor, about the potentially detrimental effects of diverting funding from the lottery. The evidence of Ms Carole Souter, director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, to the committee on 25 April, when asked whether the Secretary of State had been told of the fund’s concern over diversion of funding, was:

“We have made clear that the needs of heritage outstrip even the funds we have available already and that, therefore, any loss of funding to the heritage is something we can ill afford and, yes, we have made that very clear”.

The Historic Houses Association itself points out that currently there are some 17,000 buildings at risk in England alone.

Let us not think that arts funding is only for our great national institutions such as the Royal Opera House. It is not even only for our orchestras, which have had spectacular success in attracting new audiences and will also be hard hit by losses in funding.

The importance of arts funding is to enable grassroots community arts projects to thrive. As Tony Hall, the executive director of the Royal Opera House, pointed out in the Evening Standard in March,

“most of the Lottery funding for the arts is no longer going on these big-ticket capital projects. Instead, it now funds lots and lots of smaller-scale projects in communities up and down the country”.

Anthony Gormley has forcefully made the same point. It is to enable the artistic landscape in Britain to innovate, experiment, develop and flourish. Noble Lords have made the point that 86 per cent of individual grants are for £5,000 or less.

We are also to have the cultural Olympiad, which a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter, have discussed so cogently. The noble Lord, Lord Coe, was very eloquent about the benefits of the cultural Olympiad. The year 2012 will be a showcase not only for British sports but for British arts and heritage. The cultural Olympiad, running in conjunction with the Olympics, is a unique opportunity for the UK to showcase its diverse and rich culture to a global audience. It does not make sense to cause potentially permanent damage and drain resources from these areas at a time when we should be building them up.

This loss of funding coupled with the voluntary arts sector’s loss of trust in the Government threatens to erode its enthusiasm for participation in the cultural Olympiad and diminish the benefits of any subsequent legacy. My noble friend referred to the relaunch on three occasions of the Olympic Legacy Trust, which seems rather extraordinary. That fund, sadly, is also funding many other projects, such as the school games.

What should be done? The public do not want to see a raid on lottery funding for good causes. The YouGov poll recently commissioned by the NCVO demonstrates that the public support the campaign to ensure that no further lottery good cause funding is diverted due to the 2012 Olympics increasing infrastructure costs: 67 per cent of those polled said that they disagreed that more money should be diverted from lottery good causes.

Will the Government rethink this raid on the lottery? As many other noble Lords have pointed out, the Secretary of State on 23 April said of the diversion:

“I see this as more of a loan”.

What exactly does that mean? As the noble Lord, Lord Marland, asked, is this an absolute guarantee of repayment out of the proceeds of increased land value? Who will get the benefit of the regeneration of that part of London? Will it be the LDA or will the lottery be able to claw it back? Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no further diversion of lottery funds?

To date, the Government have treated the National Lottery as a cash cow. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned, Camelot has so far succeeded in mitigating some of the effects of the diversion of funds. It is quite clear, reading between the lines of its current briefing, that there are problems ahead for Camelot in riding successfully two horses simultaneously and making sure that both the mainstream lottery and the lottery for the Olympic Development Fund will be funded and on track with current plans.

What else can be done apart from treating the raid as a loan? There is the possibility of a lottery tax regime change, which we on these Benches have raised before and which was discussed when we debated the Bill on the Big Lottery Fund. The lottery is subsequently taxed on its turnover. Switching to taxation based on profits would allow the operator to invest more of its revenue into growing its business. We believe that that would improve revenue. There is, of course, the possibility of improved enforcement. Camelot argues that a clampdown on the legally grey area of lottery-style games would increase revenues, which could all be put towards the Games.

We on these Benches are great supporters of the Olympic Games, but the Government must mitigate the problems raised by this diversion of funds. It would be tragic if the Government’s actions set the interests of the Olympics against those of the arts and heritage. I very much hope that in his reply the Minister gives some creative thought as to how that mitigation can take place rather than simply attempting to justify the Government’s actions.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, for introducing this interesting debate and I congratulate the many noble Lords who have spoken.

It is important for a nation to preserve its heritage. If heritage is not maintained it will wither away or fall down. If your Lordships do not believe in the cultural value of heritage, consider the enormous value of heritage to the tourist industry. Tourists do not come to look at the Dome.

Ahead of the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, a number of respected organisations, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust and English Heritage, published a document, Valuing Our Heritage. It showed over £1 billion-worth of outstanding heritage work and demonstrated that spending on heritage in England is less than in Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and other European countries. Between 2000 and 2007 English Heritage’s grant-in-aid was reduced in real terms by over £20 million.

As the bulk of English Heritage’s work is with specialist craftsmen, where wage inflation runs at or close to double figures, so inflation for English Heritage is far worse than the official figures used when calculating “real terms”. The true reduction in English Heritage’s funding over the period is probably in excess of £50 million. That reduction has been compensated for by the Heritage Lottery Fund, but, as my noble friend Lord Baker has already said, this funding has been steadily reduced from £355 million in 2004 to £290 million in the current year. That will drop to £180 million in 2008, from which the latest Olympic raid will take another £90 million.

If, as has been said, the money borrowed from good causes to fund the Olympics is returned—and that is a big “if”—will heritage be fully compensated? Old buildings deteriorate at an exponential rate. What costs £1 today will cost £2 or more in just a short time. Libraries might have to close down and their collections of books dispersed. There are many other examples, some of which have been mentioned today. The point is that money borrowed in this fashion must be returned with an adequate uplift to compensate fully for the inflation of costs incurred by postponing or delaying work.

As well as the impact on the arts and heritage, there is to be—despite the ambition to leave a sporting legacy—a cutback in lottery money available for sport, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has said. I declare an interest as chairman of the National Playing Fields Association. The Government pay regular lip service to the benefit to young people of taking more exercise and playing more sport. Taking a grand total of £395 million away from those who support the grass roots of sport and using the funds to contribute to building large showcase stadiums may generate an initial enthusiasm, but the lack of facilities due to the curtailment of funding at the less flamboyant end of sport will rapidly kill off any interest.

I have spoken more about heritage and sport than about the arts. Many noble Lords have spoken more eloquently and knowledgeably than I could on that subject. Although the impact of the lottery raids on the arts will be severe, they will not have the same irreversible impact as depriving children of sport—their youth cannot be replaced—or the harm that will be caused by delaying repairs and maintenance to the nation’s heritage.

When my noble friend Lord Baker started the lottery, in the face of the cynicism of others, it was, as he said earlier, to raise money for the arts, charity, sport and heritage. Since its conception, the lottery has gone from strength to strength and has raised—and continues to raise—significant sums of money. Unfortunately, it has been seen by this Government as a source of funds for pet projects rather than for the purpose for which it was originally set up. I earnestly repeat the request to the Minister that there will be no further raids on lottery funds to pay for the 2012 Olympics.

I realise that this is extraordinarily unlikely, but if the costs of the Olympics do not continue to escalate and the total contingency of £3.2 billion is not all used up, will those funds which have been purloined from the lottery be released back to it, and thereby to those causes that the lottery supports, rather than being snaffled by the Treasury?

My Lords, I am grateful—I think—to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for securing this interesting and timely debate. As he said, he is an old friend, and I very much hope that our friendship will survive the speech I am about to make.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coe, for coming here today in his position and for making a measured and interesting contribution to the debate. It contrasted with the mood of some of the other speakers. We have got the Olympics, which is absolutely brilliant and will bring enormous benefit to this country. Of course there are problems, some of which have been raised today, but we should not be quashed by them.

Noble Lords have raised many interesting points; I am afraid that I will not be able to answer all of them in my 20 minutes, but I promise to write after the debate to those whom I cannot answer now.

I wish to put this debate in a political framework—that is what my notes say, but in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, did it for me. In her memoirs, The Path to Power, published in 1995, Margaret Thatcher made the following point—the only point about the arts in the entire book:

“There were more discussions of public expenditure that autumn of 1970. The Treasury had its little list of savings for the education budget—including charges for libraries, museums, school meals and school milk. I knew from my own experience . . . how vital it was to have access to books. So I persuaded the Cabinet to drop the proposed library charges, while reluctantly accepting entry charges for museums and galleries”.

Fast forward to when the Conservative Party lost the 1997 election—arts funding stood at £187 million a year. Incidentally, it stood at £139 million when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was Secretary of State for Education in 1988. This Labour Government increased that investment from £187 million, with a real terms increase of 73 per cent, to £412 million this year. This transformed the landscape of the arts in the United Kingdom. A 72 per cent increase in budget for theatre translated into increases in audiences of 40 per cent. Creative partnerships have been developed so that more than 610,000 young people can be involved in creative projects. Grant in aid to museums has risen by 29 per cent in real terms since 1997. Free admission to all our national museums has brought about an 83 per cent increase in total visits to formerly charging museums since 2001, representing an extra 6.5 million visits in 2006.

The noble Lord failed to mention Renaissance in the Regions, a scheme I was involved in, to revitalise regional museums. Some £147 million has been invested in that initiative, and I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, that this investment is safe.

This Government do not need lessons from anyone on the importance of proper funding for culture, particularly from a senior and distinguished member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. This Government have helped create a transformation in the cultural infrastructure of the country.

Let me now move to the meat of this debate; the effect on heritage and the arts and other good causes of the transfer of lottery funds to the Olympics. The first thing to say is that the Government have always been entirely clear since deciding to support London’s Olympic bid that money raised from the lottery would be a key part of the funding package. A number of points have to be made that I hope will reassure the arts and other good causes and meet some of their concerns, as well as answering some of the concerns raised today.

We have agreed with the Big Lottery Fund that resources for the small, voluntary and community sector will be protected. This means that the sector will still receive at least the amount implied by the Big Lottery Fund’s earlier commitment—around £2 billion. The NCVO has welcomed this, but clearly not the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

The other distributors are also concerned that support for small-scale and voluntary-sector projects remains available. We have heard that 50 per cent—£210 million—of the Arts Council’s grant in aid funding already goes to smaller organisations and projects and that trend has continued.

There has been a lot of discussion about the Olympic Park and repayment to the lottery. The Government will make sure that lottery good causes will have first call on any profits that come from the sale of the Olympic Park after the Games, so a share of money going to the Olympics will return to lottery funds after the Games. A number of noble Lords have asked about that—questions that I absolutely agree with—and we will be providing more information to firm up that proposal.

In his book Creative Britain published in 1998, my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury made the following point, which was also made today by several Peers:

“We must not forget the enormous importance that will still remain for support from the private sector. Arts organisations derive their funding from a range of sources, starting, of course, with their audiences, at the box-office. Additional backing is and must be a partnership between private support and sponsorship, and public subsidy. That partnership is vital”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, spoke eloquently about that issue and the matter was raised in a positive way by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, but characterised by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, as just getting money from rich philanthropists. The partnership has happened and the proof is that the private sector invested £529.5 million in culture during 2005-06.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, earlier this month, the Tate held a gala dinner in New York. That charity has raised $81 million in cash donations. The Tate generates 67p for every grant-in-aid pound.

The Royal Opera House only last week received £10 million from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. But it is not only the big arts organisations that are raising money from sources other than the Government or the lottery. The Watermill Theatre in Berkshire is an excellent example: this small producing theatre represents a classic case of successful plural funding. The theatre’s Save the Watermill appeal is to raise £3 million capital funding. In less than two years, the theatre has raised £2,300,000 from private sources and £200,000 from Arts Council England: South East. 

My noble friend Lord Rosser made a point about Sport England in relation to private funding and it is a point well made. There is a temporary diversion of some lottery funds towards Olympics-related projects and there are also, of course, other sources of project funding for entrepreneurial, dynamic arts organisations however large or small.

I should like to say a few words about the lottery. It is a success story, raising around £1.4 billion for good causes every year. Figures released last year showed that the National Lottery returned more to society than any other lottery in the world. It is cost-efficient, innovative and reliable. In the previous financial year, more than 35 per cent of revenue was generated through innovations and channels introduced since the start of the second lottery licence. The funding plan for dedicated Olympic lottery games is ahead of schedule, beating the sales forecast in both the first two years of the plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned, one way in which to mitigate the decrease in revenues for other good causes is to maximise the overall size of the lottery cake. It is also the Government’s intention—this clears up some confusion—that existing lottery projects need not be affected and that none of the money will be transferred until 2009. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner.

There has been much discussion about the Cultural Olympiad. In their bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012, the Government set out their aspiration to develop a cultural programme alongside the sporting elements of the Games. From the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Coe, the UK will commence its Cultural Olympiad, a developing four-year period of cultural activity. The Cultural Olympiad is intended to encapsulate the widest possible range of culture from the arts, museums and galleries, to the historic and built environment, to libraries and archives, to the moving and digital image, from the biggest institutions to the smallest community groups. My right honourable friend Tessa Jowell made an absolute commitment in Liverpool two days ago. She said:

“We will soon be making a detailed announcement of a Legacy Trust—£40 million”—

to support cultural and—

“sports engagement across the UK in the run up to, and during the 2012 Games”.

She added:

“My challenge to the Trust is that they spend 70% of their funding on culture”.

As we have heard, the Heritage Lottery Fund will contribute a total of £161 million. This means that there should still be left over £700 million of new lottery money for the fund between 2009 and 2012. The Arts Council England will contribute a total of £112.5 million. This means that there will be £500 million of new lottery money for the council between 2009 and 2012. The period of the Arts Council England supporting very large-scale capital grants has come to an end, which means that there is now a focus on smaller grants to organisations and individuals. This fact may go some way to answer some of the genuine concerns we have heard today. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

I should like to deal with a number of points that came up. As I said, I cannot answer all the points but a few themes must be confronted. Many noble Lords asked whether I could promise that no more lottery money will be diverted. The new Olympics budget has been rigorously and independently assessed. We have put in place rigorous cost-control measures. We believe that this is a robust package. It is not inevitable that costs will rise and—this is a crucial point—the inclusion of a £2.7 billion contingency means that, should the need arise, the funds are available to meet it.

I will come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, made in a moment. A number of noble Lords have talked about the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the double whammy of losing money to the lottery and the spending review being just around the corner. Noble Lords will understand that I cannot say anything about the next spending review, but many points have been made, and they will be noted.

The noble Lord, Lord Marland, asked whether the new lottery games for the Olympics are damaging the good causes. Non-Olympic good causes may lose on average about 5 per cent of their income as a result of sales diversion. The new lottery games are on course, as I said earlier, to raise £750 million towards the cost of the Olympics. On the renewal of the licence, the winner of the new lottery licence will be announced by the National Lottery Commission in the summer, and an announcement of the preferred bidder is expected next month.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, talked very interestingly about Scotland and asked what the impact will be in Scotland. The cash contribution of the arts, including film, in Scotland to the 2012 Games will be around £15 million. However, there should still be more than £60 million for the arts, including film, in Scotland between 2009 and 2012. There should still be more than £410 million of new lottery money for Scotland between 2009 and 2012. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked about the Heritage Lottery Fund. He may be encouraged to hear that the HLF expects to absorb the impact of Olympic funding over time, rather than make deeper short-term cuts. That means that there will be less impact on its customers, and it will still be able to provide support to the full range of heritage activities. Between now and 2019, HLF expects to distribute £1.9 billion to the heritage sector, some £180 million a year from 2009 and beyond, and it has also given a reassurance that those projects already-promised grants will be absolutely safe.

The noble Lord, Lord Howard, interestingly, asked about what will happen to the contingency. Some £2.3 million would be met from Exchequer funds; the balance of half a billion pounds is to be met from the lottery. The lottery sum is already in the revised figures that were announced a few weeks ago, so if it is not spent, it will simply stay with the lottery. Obviously, it would be rather too much to expect Exchequer funds to pay money to the arts if the contingency is not used. There is an interesting note about the contingency and matters around it, which I will pass to the noble Lord after our debate.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the words of our next Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, speaking at the Brighton festival last Sunday. Much has been said about the present Prime Minister’s views on the arts, as expressed in his speech. Gordon Brown spoke of wanting to achieve two things; first, properly to fund the arts:

“I do intend to make sure that what happens over the next period is not detrimental to the arts and will not allow the fact that we are having an Olympic Games to come in the way of the arts”.

The second thing that he wants to achieve is that every young person and every school child gets access to the arts and gets a chance to learn about the great range of culture, from music to drama, and everything else.

This has been an extremely interesting debate. I conclude by saying that we were delighted to win the Olympic Games for our country. It will give huge pleasure and benefit to the people of Britain and it will help and encourage sport and the arts. It will leave a massive legacy of great benefit to all our citizens, and the Paralympic Games, which have not been mentioned today, will provide a showcase for some of the bravest and most talented people in our country. That in itself is a worthwhile objective.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Our old friendship remains intact. He has defended the indefensible and excused the inexcusable. That is all right. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken. Every Peer expressed concern, alarm and despondency about the effect of moving £675 million away from the lottery into the London Olympics: my noble friend Lord Luce on the arts; the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on Sport England; the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on art in prisons; my noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lord Caithness on historic houses and castles; the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on railway heritage; the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, on museums; the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on churches and cathedrals; and my noble friend Lady Hooper on heritage and charities.

We also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about the continuing difficulty of raising money from business to support the arts. She will be aware that not only is that difficult and somewhat depressing but that in some areas of the country—the east Midlands, West Midlands and the fenlands—there has been a decline in business support for the arts in the past three years.

I have three messages for the Government and the Minister. First, you have taken £675 million. No more must be taken. There would be public outrage if more money was raided from the Lottery funds to support the Olympics. A huge amount has been transferred, which will harm a whole range of activities. Secondly, regarding the loan that we heard about, Tessa Jowell says that the money will all come back. Most loans are accompanied by a guarantee. I see the Minister nodding. If he could rise at the Dispatch Box now and say, on behalf of the Government, that he will guarantee that that £675 will be repaid—

I should have said £675 million; it will be “billion” next time. That would be a meaningful guarantee, but, of course he cannot get up to say that.

My Lords, what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was that when the Olympic Park is sold, money will come back to the lottery. I said that a number of legitimate questions had been asked by his noble friend Lord Marland regarding the details of the arrangement. They were absolutely legitimate and important questions and I said that we would provide the sort of detail that any business person would expect for an arrangement such as this.

My Lords, that takes us a bit further and I am encouraged. The phrase that the noble Lord used in his speech was “temporary diversion of money”. That means that a timescale has been imposed on it, and that when that time is over and the Olympics are over, it will be diverted back to us.

Finally, I urge the Minister: please listen to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury. He left the culture department with an enhanced reputation—an almost impossible task for any Minister who has held that role. He said very clearly that enough is enough. I heard the words of Gordon Brown that were quoted by the Minister at the end of his speech; and I hope that Gordon Brown notices them after the regime change. It is up to Gordon Brown to ensure that there is no cut for arts in the spending round this year. That will be his test. All the arts and heritage bodies expect a cut. If it is frozen, it is a cut. We very much expect the Chancellor to redeem what he said in Brighton last week by increasing spending on those bodies. Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken.

Oh yes, my Lords, I will, but we can do it all again if you want. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29 March be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I shall provide some background to these regulations which amend the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2001 to enable the Chief Electoral Officer—CEO—for Northern Ireland to request information from specified local and public authorities in Northern Ireland for the purpose of meeting his registration objectives.

The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 removed the legal obligation on the CEO to conduct an annual canvass in Northern Ireland and made provision for a system of more extensive and targeted continuous updating of the electoral register. In particular, Section 7 of the Act enables regulations to be made that give the CEO the power to obtain information from local and public authorities to help him to meet his registration objectives. As the registration officer for all constituencies in Northern Ireland, with responsibility for maintaining the electoral register in Northern Ireland, the CEO’s objectives—set out in Section 10ZB of the Representation of the People Act 1983—are

“to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable”

the following three things: every person who is entitled to be registered in a register is registered in it; that no person who is not entitled to be registered in a register is registered in it; and, finally, that none of the required information relating to any person registered in a register is false.

In order to assist the registration officer in meeting the registration objectives under the new system of continuous updating of the electoral register, the regulations before us now will enable him to request information for the purposes of ensuring that the register is accurate and comprehensive. This information will include names and addresses, dates of births and deaths, and national insurance numbers, which will be used to identify duplicate or invalid entries on the register. It will help him to track changes in the circumstances of individuals on the register, such as their surname and address; to identify people not on the register but who are entitled to be; and to track the point at which “attainers”—individuals aged 16 or 17—will become eligible to be registered.

The bodies from which the CEO will be able to request information under the regulations are district councils; the Registrar General of Births and Deaths in Northern Ireland; the Northern Ireland Central Services Agency; the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; and the Department of Work and Pensions. The DWP is cited instead of the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency because it centrally holds the information that will be requested by the CEO. The DWP is cited in the existing regulations and this system works well.

The regulations do not require bodies to disclose information which came into their possession before these regulations come into force, although they are not prevented from doing so. This is because we do not have the power to give the regulations retrospective effect. In addition to this, we wished to ensure that the CEO did not receive old information. Regulation 1(4) will ensure that the CEO receives information which is relevant and appropriate and not out of date. Of course, before these regulations come into force it is open to the CEO to use his existing powers to obtain information. These regulations have been developed in conjunction with the CEO to ensure that they will enable him to exercise his powers as effectively as possible on the ground. He and his staff are entirely committed to using the new powers contained in these regulations to preserve the high level of accuracy that has characterised the electoral register in Northern Ireland as a result of the improvements brought about by the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, while increasing its comprehensiveness. They will also enable him specifically to target traditionally unrepresented groups, to ensure that as many people as possible in Northern Ireland from all social and economic groups are registered to vote.

It will be for the CEO to determine the operational steps which he will take to do this. He has the knowledge and experience necessary to determine how the powers contained in these regulations should be used to produce the best results. I know that he intends to be very proactive and is keen to begin exercising his new powers as soon as possible. I hope that noble Lords can agree with the regulations, and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29 March be approved. 15th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this statutory instrument to your Lordships’ House today. In principle, we support it. There has been considerable debate and work over the past six or seven years on the electoral situation in Northern Ireland, particularly the rules and regulations of the electoral register. As far as I can make out—I spoke to officials about this—the instrument consists purely of further amendments to update and improve what is already an excellent system.

I have one question for the Minister. In a debate on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, we discussed how often we were going to force electors to re-register. It was then once every year, and it is now once every 10 years. Does that still stand? I would like to think so.

Having said that, the present order certainly improves the detail. The officials and departments in government responsible for elections in England, Wales and Scotland—recent elections have been a total shambles for the democratic process—could learn a lot of lessons from the electoral processes, and their rules and regulations, in Northern Ireland. A great deal of thought has been given to them. The spotlight was on Northern Ireland for all sorts of reasons, because of the great saying “Vote early and vote often”, dead people voting, people not yet born voting and the like. That has been 99.9 per cent cured. One’s national insurance number is now on the register, photographic evidence of who you are is necessary and so on. I know that the Government refused to have national insurance numbers on the British registry, and think that they were wrong. Having said that, which I appreciate probably has little to do with this particular statutory instrument, I support the regulations.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the statutory instrument. Broadly speaking, we support it. I cannot help observing that—apart from the hybrid noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who is in some manifestations a Briton and others an Ulsterman—there are no Members in your Lordships’ House from Northern Ireland. I would have expected at least one or two of them to be here.

I also concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said about the clean way that elections now take place in Northern Ireland. Both our Benches supported and pushed through the insurance number provision which with hindsight—and certainly in comparison with Scotland—shows how valuable that was. Also, as a result of their long experience of rigged and now clean elections, the good people of Northern Ireland can understand how to vote, whatever the system. Other regions of the United Kingdom have a lot of catching up to do.

However, I have one question, which was also asked by my honourable friend in another place, the Member for Argyll and Bute. Today, the Minister addressed the issue of there being no retrospective provision for information gathered before these regulations. However, under the present provision, the authorities can respond to a request from the CEO, first, to provide the information; secondly, to inform the registration officer that the information is not held; and, thirdly, to request further time. My honourable friend asked whether there should not be a fourth option to say that the authorities have the information, but are not giving it because it was acquired before the regulations came into effect. It seems to me that that is a logical addition to the other three responses, and it would have been tidier if that provision had been made. Can the Minister say why it has not been included? However, we support the regulations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton, for welcoming this order. I confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is correct about the 10-year period. Both noble Lords made some very interesting points about the electoral process in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that they will be noted.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, we judged that the fourth option was not necessary. The powers are permissive, and it would not have added anything to include that fourth option.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order 2007

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Boundary Commission for England announced the beginning of its fifth general review of English parliamentary constituencies in February 2000. The Secretary of State received the Boundary Commission’s resulting report on 31 October 2006.

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the now Ministry of Justice laid the report and the draft order before Parliament on 26 February 2007. This fulfilled the Secretary of State’s obligation under Section 3(5) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 to lay the order and report before Parliament as soon as may be after receipt of the report. The order will give effect, without modification, to the recommendations made by the Boundary Commission for England in its report.

Before turning to the details of the order, I thank the Boundary Commission for England—the deputy chairman, the honourable Mr Justice Sullivan, and his fellow commissioners, Mr Michael Lewer and Mr Robin Gray—and its expert secretariat for their work in delivering the report.

Under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, the Boundary Commission for England is required to keep English parliamentary boundaries under constant review and to conduct a general review every eight to 12 years. In reaching its conclusions, the Boundary Commission for England seeks, in line with the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, to create constituencies that, as far as practicable, are contained within and respect county and London borough boundaries and that adhere as closely as possible to the electoral quota, which is a figure calculated by dividing the total electorate in England by the number of English seats in the House of Commons at that time. The figures used in that calculation are taken from the electoral register in force at the time that the commission announces the beginning of its review, which is referred to in the Act as the “enumeration date”. On that basis, the electoral quota for this review was set at 69,935.

Accordingly, the Boundary Commission for England attempted to create constituencies with a parliamentary electorate as close as possible to that number. However, the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 also requires other factors to be taken into account to mitigate the rather arbitrary splitting of natural communities that may result from the application of a mathematical formula alone. These other rules include special geographical, community and transport considerations. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that the Boundary Commission for England, in devising the new constituency boundaries, has had to strike a balance to achieve the best possible outcome.

I am aware that there may be opposition to individual recommendations in the report. Frankly, given the nature of the work, it would be amazing if there were not at least some disagreements during the process. However, in the absence of any evidence of political bias or failure to observe the statutory requirements by the commission, the Government have not seen sufficient reason to alter its recommendations. That is particularly so, given the Boundary Commission for England’s status as an independent, apolitical and impartial body that formulates its recommendations following a lengthy and detailed process of consultation and research within the terms of its remit.

Provisional recommendations of the Boundary Commission for England are publicised locally, and interested parties are invited to give their views. If there was a sufficient objection to a recommendation of the Boundary Commission, public inquiries were held in the local area, where interested parties could submit counterproposals. Independent legal experts chaired these inquiries, considered each objection and counterproposal, and produced a full report, which was then considered by the Boundary Commission for England in formulating revised recommendations. These were again publicised, with a further opportunity for representations to be made on them and considered by the commission before its recommendations were finalised.

In conclusion, the Government are satisfied that the Boundary Commission for England has followed all due procedures in reaching its conclusions and in making its recommendations. We now need to complete the parliamentary process to implement the recommendations. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 February be approved. 11th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 14th Report from the Merits Committee.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for describing this order. I join him in acknowledging the work that has been done by the Boundary Commission for England over what is now a very long period. It started its work well prior to the last election and the new boundaries will not take effect until the next election, so there is a long space between the enumeration date and the actual implementation of the boundaries, by which time I am sure that all the population figures will have gone completely haywire again. No doubt that will be dealt with at some stage.

I recognise that a lot of work has gone into not only drawing up these boundaries but ensuring that public inquiries were held where appropriate. The result of the order before us today probably has taken a great deal of detailed investigation.

I raise only one matter with the Minister. The order draws attention to the 11th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It has now decided that the Boundary Commission for England should not be given to the Electoral Commission as a boundary committee. I have no difficulty with that; I was just wondering whether there was a reason behind it, because I have not found the 11th report of the standards committee. Somebody will smile and produce it for the noble Lord before the end.

My Lords, I also welcome sight of the order today. For those of us involved in the organisation of election campaigns, it helps to have some certainty that we will be on new boundaries. I think I am right in saying that no Government have ever actually altered or tried to modify the recommendations of any Boundary Commission report, although a number of times different Governments have tried to speed up the process or delay implementation of the Boundary Commission’s proposals, perhaps according to their advantage at the time. I wondered whether we would see the order today or whether the Prime Minister-elect might have a sneaky plan for a snap election based on the old boundaries. But with the order today, we and those organising the elections have certainty that we are selecting candidates and fighting on the basis of the new boundaries.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I have just one question about the Electoral Commission and its responsibility for future Boundary Commission processes. I have always thought that the Boundary Commission process at present is most unsatisfactory—inviting eminent lawyers to chair what is effectively a fight between political parties and other interested representatives as they try to argue about the continuity of constituencies, community links and so on. A number of those claims are often bogus but are then refereed by some senior judge.

When we discussed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, we supported the principle that the Electoral Commission should consider the process in future. I know that that is now being revisited. Perhaps rightly, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that the Electoral Commission should focus its attention on a narrower range of subjects, rather than having such a wide remit as we gave it in 2000. I would welcome something like the continuity of the proposal in 2000 that the Electoral Commission should take lead responsibility in considering the process, rather than as in the current Boundary Commission proposals. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us a little on the timing or current thinking about the issue.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the two noble Lords for their welcome of the order. When I was reading it, I thought that nobody could argue that there was any possibility of political interference in the process, because there are so many safeguards written into it.

On the question of transfer to the Electoral Commission, the view is that the matter does not fit with the core functions of the Electoral Commission, on which it should focus. We are considering the timing of the response to the recommendations, and hope to respond by the summer—which is a short time away. Given the answer to those two questions, I commend the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (Corresponding Amendments) Order 2007

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28 March be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order makes a series of technical amendments to certain compulsory purchase powers, so bringing them into line with existing mainstream compulsory purchase legislation. In effect, it tidies up loose ends from 2004. It ensures that all people who are affected by compulsory purchase are treated the same, irrespective of the powers under which the order is made.

The drafting of the order may appear complex, but the effect of the amendments is quite straightforward. It may, however, be helpful to the House if I provide a bit of further background to the order—the chronology and so on. Noble Lords will be aware that the order was passed by a resolution of the Delegated Legislation Committee of the other place on 9 May.

Before the implementation of Part 8 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, in October of that year, tenants for a month or less were not entitled to be notified of a compulsory purchase order affecting the relevant property, nor were they entitled to be heard at any public inquiry. The 2004 Act amended the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 to require that such tenants were to be notified of a compulsory purchase order and would be entitled to appear at an inquiry.

Almost all compulsory purchase orders are governed by the 1981 Act, but there are a few, made under the Acts listed in the schedule to the order, which are not. Our proposal is simply that the gap should be closed, so that tenants with tenancies of a month or less who are affected by compulsory purchase orders made under the powers conferred by those Acts should also benefit from being notified and being heard at an inquiry. In practice, such tenants would almost certainly hear about the compulsory purchase orders, and would almost certainly be given a hearing at an inquiry, but this was not their right.

We believe that very few people will be affected. Compulsory purchase orders made under the Gas Act and other Acts in the schedule will mostly be in rural areas, where monthly or weekly tenancies are not common. However, it is obviously proper that all tenants who could be affected should have the same rights to be notified and to be heard.

The legislation that we are proposing to amend is set out in the Schedule to the order. They are the Military Lands Act 1892, the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act 1945, the Land Powers (Defence) Act 1958, the Pipe-lines Act 1962, the Harbours Act 1964, the Gas Act 1965, the Forestry Act 1967, the Water Industry Act 1991 and the Water Resources Act 1991. The relevant departments have been consulted and have agreed to the terms of the order.

I shall briefly take noble Lords through the chronology. The legislation set out in the schedule to the order contains compulsory purchase powers used by certain government departments and statutory undertakers that do not, as I have indicated, depend on the 1981 Act for the procedure to make compulsory purchase orders and certain other orders. As I said, they include such things as compulsory rights orders under the Pipe-lines Act or storage authorisation orders under the Gas Act. Consequentially, that means that the amendments made in 2004 to the 1981 Act do not apply to these powers.

Before the 2004 amendments came into force, the 1981 Act provided for people who own or occupy the land that is to be acquired to be notified of the proposed compulsory acquisition and of their right to object and to appear at an inquiry. This was limited to the owner, lessee or occupier, but did not include people whose tenancy period was for a month or less. That meant that the right of notification did not include monthly or weekly tenants, even though they may have had security of tenure and may have lived in the property on that basis for a number of years.

Changes were made to the compulsory purchase procedures set out in the 1981 Act by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, so that any person who is a tenant, whatever the tenancy period, will be entitled to receive notification of a compulsory purchase order affecting the property or land that they occupy, and they have a right to object to the order and to appear at a public inquiry into the order. Changes were also made to the 1981 Act so that notice would have to be given to all persons who had sufficient interest in the land being acquired, and the acquiring authority would be required to serve on them a notice to treat—a notice to open compensation negotiations— if it was proceeding to acquire the land under Section 5(1) of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965. Notice would also have to be given to persons who are likely to be entitled to make a claim for compensation under Section 10 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965.

Let me reassure noble Lords that the powers identified in the order are very rarely used. Typically, they are used less than once a year, so my department’s Regulatory Impact Unit is satisfied that the order does not require a regulatory impact assessment. The issue was addressed in the Commons committee that considered the amendment to the 1981 Act. The opposition spokesman made it clear that he welcomed the clarification of the categories of people, which included tenants with whatever tenancy period, to be notified. That was on 16 October 2003. The Government therefore recognise that it would be unfair that tenants with monthly or weekly tenancies who are occupying land and are affected by compulsory purchase orders would not be entitled to receive notification of that order just because the particular enabling powers being exercised were not governed by the 1981 Act.

Section 110 of the 2004 Act therefore gives the Secretary of State a power to amend corresponding enactments in connection with the compulsory acquisition of an interest in land. I am sure that the noble Baroness will remember that that provision was introduced in Committee in the Lords when we considered the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill on 5 February 2004. The amendment was accepted without discussion. This is the first time that this power has been exercised and, if we have got it right, it will be the last.

The effect of the order on the different enactments that it covers varies slightly so as to take account of differences in the respective primary legislation. Perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to paragraph 4(4) of the schedule, which provides a reasonably clear example of its effect. It deals with an amendment to Schedule 2 to the Pipe-lines Act 1962 in relation to an application for a compulsory purchase order.

Paragraph 4(4)(a)(i) identifies the current formulation in Schedule 2 to the Pipe-lines Act, which refers to the serving of a notice about the proposed compulsory purchase order on,

“every owner, lessee and occupier (excepting tenants for a month or any period less than a month) of any land to be … comprised in the order”.

The order goes on to replace this phrase with the words,

“every person … who is an owner, lessee, tenant (whatever the tenancy period) or occupier of any land proposed to be comprised in the order”.

The order continues in paragraph 4(4)(a)(ii) and (iii) to specify that notification must also be given to every person who had a sufficient interest in the land being acquired for the acquiring authority to be required to serve on them a notice to treat—as I have said, a notice to open compensation negotiations—if it was proceeding to acquire the land under Section 5(1) of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, or to persons who are likely to be entitled to make a claim for compensation under Section 10 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965.

I should emphasise that the order has no effect on entitlements to compensation or the amount that can be claimed. I know that the order is complex. In the light of what I said about tidying up loose ends and ensuring that people receive equal treatment, I hope that noble Lords will accept why the order is needed and the context in which it is made. I therefore commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28 March be approved. 15th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Andrews.)

My Lords, there is clearly nothing one can say to object to this order. It is eminently sensible. I can see why it has taken some time to come around to this: a number of Acts have to be amended in order to introduce it. It seems equitable in every term and perfectly proper. The Minister has forestalled the one question that I had buried in the back of my mind, which was whether this would extend the right of compensation. She said that the order has nothing to do with that, and one assumes that anything to do with compensation will come in under other provisions. I am very happy to accept that the order is appropriate.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very clear and full explanation of the order. While much of it is clearly technical, as the Minister has said, it is very necessary and welcome. It seems only fair that all tenants should have rights in relation to compulsory purchase orders. On that basis, I welcome the order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces: Steven Roberts Inquiry

rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what lessons have been learnt from the comments made by the coroner in the case of Sergeant Steven Roberts.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity for this debate. Many of the events in Iraq since British forces were first deployed there in early 2003 have been distressing to those directly affected and give more general cause for public concern. These two elements, personal distress and shortcomings in public policy, come together in the case of Sergeant Steven Roberts.

Although certain facts were initially withheld or disputed, it would finally appear that more or less the whole story has now emerged. That that is now the case is due to the determination of the young widow of Sergeants Roberts and to the systematic persistence of the coroner. From that whole story it is evident that there were lessons to be learnt and to be applied. Noble Lords will remember that Sergeant Roberts commanded one of the tanks sent to form a road block in the very earliest days of the campaign. In the proper course of his duty, he dismounted from his vehicle. Shots were fired—I put that in neutral terms—and he was killed. It was more or less immediately apparent that if he had been wearing body armour, the shots might not have been fatal. But he was not wearing it, and that was because the set issued to him had been deliberately called back from him to be reissued to someone else because of severe shortages in the number of sets available. He was sent into battle, as the coroner observed, without,

“the most basic piece of equipment”.

We know this because he told his wife that this had happened.

As early as September 2001, a key equipment issues list had identified that, if enhanced combat body armour were to be required for a military campaign, there was no way that the holdings as they then stood could be sufficient. A year later, in September 2002, an urgent operational requirement was directed to the Secretary of State, but there followed an unacceptable eight-week delay between the request for the kit being made and authorisation being granted. At the time Sergeant Roberts was killed, 2,200 servicemen lacked ECBA kits.

David Williams, the director of capability, resources and scrutiny at the MoD, reported that the equipment was not ordered when it was requested because the Government did not want to telegraph the fact that Britain was preparing for war with Iraq. It was clear also that Ministers did not want to alienate Labour MPs. The inescapable conclusion is that Sergeant Roberts died unnecessarily as a result of political expediency. This was despite the strong likelihood of military action.

Two fundamental points arise from that conclusion. First, the political justification was itself flawed. The stated intention at the time was, and should have been, to make it abundantly clear to Saddam Hussein that if he did not comply with UN resolutions, he would face military retribution. It is therefore astonishing that the Government consciously attempted to keep their position as equivocal as possible; doing so was counterproductive and fatal. The second point—this is the wider lesson that the Government must not brush off—is that it can never be right for the Government to place political considerations above their duty of care to the Armed Forces. Their obligation is to minimise as far as possible the risk to the lives of service men and women. We do not disagree for a moment with the powerful conclusion of the coroner in this case. His words deserve repetition:

“To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in Government”.

Does the Minister accept that the decision to delay ordering essential sets of enhanced combat body armour was not a military one but was taken by the Secretary of State?

The shortage of body armour was not the only example of defects and deficiencies in equipment, doctrine and training that emerged from the examination of the case. There is the matter of the revolver, the sergeant’s personal weapon, that jammed. There is the machine-gun on the tank that also failed. There is the absence of a second soldier protecting him. There is the trajectory of bullets fired from the tank’s gun and its unsuitability as a weapon at short range. The board of inquiry looking into the case recommended that in future all gunners should be trained on the gun’s shortcomings, and criticised what it described as “inadequate” procedures. There is the question of doctrine and practice in mounting road blocks with tanks in such circumstances.

Beyond those specific defects and deficiencies, there are also important general lessons which we should pay attention to and hope to see acknowledged and remedied. First is the inaccurate initial assessment as reported that the sergeant had been shot by an Iraqi rather than by his own side. This is a significant dimension of the concerns we all feel about the lethal impact of “friendly fire”. The second lesson is the deliberate attempted exclusion of the sergeant’s widow and next-of-kin from the inquiry process. It is a shortcoming in military attitudes that may be changing, but neither sufficiently positively nor sufficiently quickly.

The third reason—this is not the least important in that it seems to affect all too many cases of different kinds—is the unconscionable length of time between the tragic happening and the eventual clarification. I am inclined to wonder whether we would have got the disclosure we have if it had not been for the determination of Samantha Roberts. She deserves not only our sympathy for her loss but also our admiration and appreciation for her determination to see this whole thing right—or at least as right as it can be in the circumstances.

I believe that I have said enough to demonstrate that there are important lessons to be learnt from this. Some of the points that I have raised, such as the jamming of the revolver, have already been followed through as far as it is practicable to take them. The tragic unfolding events in March 2003 can never be reversed, but what assurance can the Minister give that these lessons have been learnt, will stay learnt and are being applied?

My Lords, I am sure that all Members of your Lordships’ House are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for raising this issue and for the way in which he has paid tribute not only to the process that the coroner undertook but to the very important role that Mrs Samantha Roberts and other members of the family took in making sure that this issue did not die with the death of Sergeant Roberts. I entirely concur with the noble Lord’s conclusions.

Sergeant Steven Roberts came from my then constituency of North Cornwall, from the town of Wadebridge. He was the first British casualty after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and, sadly, his death and its aftermath have been symbolic of the tragic mistakes and the avoidable loss of life there ever since.

Within days, Sergeant Roberts’s family was in touch with me because they had been informed by letter from an officer in his unit of the stark details of his death: first, the malfunctioning weapon was well known then; secondly, it was fairly clear that the fatal shot was almost certainly from a colleague and was therefore friendly fire; and, thirdly, there was a very strong suggestion that he would not have died had he been wearing appropriate enhanced combat body armour. So, on behalf of the family, throughout 2003 I sought confirmation and information from the Ministry of Defence. I can only describe its attitude as being like a brick wall; it was very defensive.

On 18 December 2003 I set out in some detail the alarming lack of reliable information in a speech in the other place. Obviously it would not be appropriate for me to deal with that in detail but if I indicate the areas of concern that were already apparent three and half years ago I hope your Lordships’ House will recognise just how long this process has been dragged out. I said:

“First, why was Sergeant Roberts not wearing appropriate enhanced combat body armour? Was he ordered to pass on his reinforced flak jacket to other troops thought to be more vulnerable? Secondly, exactly who fired the fatal shot or shots? Thirdly, did Sergeant Roberts’s weapon perform correctly?”.—[Official Report, Commons; 18/12/03; col.1753.]

I drew attention to a report that had just been issued from the National Audit Office, which stated:

“200,000 sets [of ECBA] had been issued since the Kosovo campaign in 1999, greatly exceeding the theoretical requirement, but these seem to have disappeared”.

For something like that to disappear when the United Kingdom was preparing for hostilities was quite extraordinary in itself. I pointed out then that the audit trail the Ministry of Defence prides itself on surely was not operating effectively in those circumstances. The inevitable conclusion must be that the Ministry of Defence’s incompetence, or inadequate preparations despite the very long build-up before hostilities began, led to an entirely avoidable death in the case of Sergeant Steve Roberts. Faced with that irrefutable evidence, one can dimly imagine the added trauma faced by his widow, his mother and his family.

I give credit to the then Secretary of State, Mr Geoffrey Hoon, that he then invited Mrs Samantha Roberts and Steven Roberts’s mother and brother to meet him in January 2004. But that meeting—and I understand the reasons—was a waste of time in the sense that all the Secretary of State could say was, “It is going to take some time to get to the bottom of this”. But he implied that it would be a matter of weeks, not months, let alone years.

When, later in 2004, we had the board of inquiry report, which made specific reference to the failure of supply as being a matter of political constraints—nothing to do with military command, with no blame attached to the commanders on the ground—I felt the matter needed further attention. It was quite extraordinary that immediately after the board of inquiry there was no further attempt by the Ministry of Defence to ensure that more action was taken not just to remedy that fault in the system but to accelerate the process of inquiry, investigation and report to the family.

Then we come to the coroner’s report, which the noble Lord has referred to in such detail. I endorse everything he has said about that process. My only comment is not about the coroner himself but the fact that it took so long to get to him: three and a half years after Sergeant Roberts’s death, which, I think all Members of your Lordships’ House would agree, was a very unfortunate effect of the process. This exposed the muddle in the ministry. We were then given conflicting explanations about what exactly had happened. Even after that period, it was still not possible to get to the truth.

On 10 January this year in your Lordships’ House I tabled a Starred Question, which was answered by the Minister. I asked why there was a delay of more than eight weeks between 30 September and 30 November 2002 in ordering essential sets of enhanced combat body armour for troops deployed to Iraq, with the result that 2,200 troops were not fully protected, including Sergeant Steven Roberts. The burden of the Minister’s reply was as follows: at the time the United Kingdom was deeply involved in diplomatic activity endeavouring to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Iraq, and no decision to commit a UK land force to any potential operation had been taken. The judgment was that to place orders for equipment, which would have indicated preparations for the deployment of a large land force, would have risked undermining that diplomatic effort.

The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, a former Secretary of State for Defence, pounced. It was he who pointed out at that moment what a ridiculous answer that was. It was essential at the time that Saddam Hussein fully understood that this country was preparing for possible invasion. The noble Lord, Lord King, said:

“The Government’s strategy at that time was to try and convince Saddam Hussein that if he did not comply with UN resolutions, he would face military action. So the right action to take was to give convincing evidence that military action was likely to take place, including preparing our forces for action if it came to that”.

He concluded:

“I cannot accept the answer the Minister has given”.—[Official Report, 10/1/07; col. 227.]

It might have been, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, implied, that in the particular circumstances of autumn 2002 the Government did not wish to indicate the full extent of their preparations, not for any military or international reasons but simply to keep their own Back-Benchers quiet and not look as if they were conferring with the Conservative Front Bench, who wanted a pre-emptive strike at that stage. Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary explanation, as the noble Lord, Lord King, indicated.

What is even more extraordinary is that I had tabled a Written Question at much the same time that received a totally different Answer. On 8 February 2007 I asked:

“When the shortage of enhanced body armour was first identified in the preparations for the invasion of Iraq in 2002; and when the Secretary of State for Defence was first advised of the need to supplement the available stock”.

The Answer came back:

“On 13 September 2002, the then Secretary of State for Defence was asked to approve a request to approach industry so that timelines and cost of a potential order for additional enhanced combat body armour (ECBA) could be identified. This was part of an extensive package of equipment request put to the Secretary of State as part of the overall preparation for operations. He was advised at the time that there were some 13,000 existing sets of ECBA in stock, which was judged sufficient to equip the fighting echelon, based on plans at the time”.—[Official Report, 8/2/07; col. WA 147.]

The Minister cannot have it both ways. Either there was a deliberate delay so as not to send the wrong signals and therefore, although the Ministry of Defence knew that it needed the order, it delayed it, or, as the Minister said, it knew that it did not need it and was confident that it had enough. That is why, even after all this time, having seen the comments of the coroner and heard the exchanges in your Lordships' House and in the other place, so many people do not have confidence that the lessons have been learnt. That is why I concur so strongly with the noble Lord.

I had the interesting experience today, as I know the Minister did, of hearing the Secretary of State speak at today’s Press Gallery lunch. He laid great emphasis on the need to look after service families, which I am sure all noble Lords agree with. For me, that includes the welfare of ex-service personnel, Gulf War illness victims and the bereaved families from hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

At its most practical level, this has a major effect on service recruitment and retention. If service families are not treated honourably by this country, this Government and this House, it sends out a very damaging message. Morally, it is even more essential. The sorry saga of the unnecessary death of Steven Roberts and its long aftermath shows the Ministry of Defence in the worst possible light when it comes to dealing sympathetically and speedily with the concerns of bereaved service families. For far too many of those families, MoD has come to stand for the ministry of dither, delay and deceit.

My Lords, I, too, am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor for giving us the opportunity to discuss not only the appalling facts of this case but also the wider ramifications. It also gives us the opportunity to discuss the general lessons which should have been—and, we hope, have been—learnt from the death of Sergeant Roberts. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, stressed that—I agreed with virtually everything he said—as did my noble friend.

I also hope that this debate will again make it clear to the Armed Forces that this House believes that the families of service men and women must be treated with that overused term “respect”. Ultimately this, almost more than anything else, will determine the morale of our troops. That would help reverse the rapidly falling number of troops happy to return for second and third tours of duty and improve the retention rates of our Armed Forces, which are currently so alarming. That does not mean just paying lip service to the great sacrifice our troops are making; it means the Government taking action to mitigate troops’ grievances.

The expression that came to mind while listening to my noble friend was, “justice delayed is justice denied”. It is fundamentally wrong for the families of those who put everything on the line to have to wait so long for the results of an inquest or for the conclusion of a court martial or an inquiry. As I am afraid we all know, this is by no means an isolated incident.

The long-drawn-out, thoroughly unsatisfactory nature of the Sergeant Roberts case has had a serious impact on the morale of other soldiers, particularly those in the field, who know that they and their families might find themselves all too easily in the same situation. The insensitive treatment of our forces’ families is matched by the lack of responsibility accepted by those in the Government who have contributed to their misfortune. I emphatically do not include the Minister in that assessment. We feel that he is invariably realistic in his appraisal of government actions, for which we in this House are most grateful. However, is not the failure of the former Secretary of State for Defence to resign following the death of Sergeant Roberts yet another example of Ministers not accepting responsibility for actions that occur on their watch?

The Minister will no doubt say, as he has in the past, that the lessons have been learnt. We would appreciate reaffirmation that that is, and will continue to be, the case.

In a reply to a Written Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Astor, the Minister claimed that delivery of the remaining 5,000 Osprey body armour sets would take place by the end of January. Will he now confirm to this House that the remaining sets have been delivered as promised and are now in use in the field? On the subject of equipment shortages, is he able to update the House on what progress has been made in delivering the rest of the extremely effective vehicle integrated personal role radios, given that he promised in another Written Answer that the remaining 278 kits would be delivered by this month? Are they now in operation in the field?

Will the Minister confirm to the House that the Government have responded to the comments made by the board of inquiry in the Sergeant Roberts case, to which my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred? The criticisms made by the inquiry could not have covered a broader range of targets: from the department, for its failure to pay “timely attention” to kit shortages, to the faulty equipment itself, the inadequate training given to the troops for the situation that they faced and the operational guidelines given to the commanding officer—in this case there was a lack of operating procedures for Challenger tank units manning vehicle checkpoints. As we all know, Challenger tanks were designed for fighting Soviet tanks across the plains of Europe, and are suitable for manning vehicle checkpoints only where there is co-operation with infantry.

In short, there was barely a stage in the whole process that the inquiry could not find fault with. We understand fully what the Minister has described in the past as,

“the risks in the real world”.—[Official Report, 10/1/07; col. 226.]

and we agree, unfortunately, that certain tragedies are sadly unavoidable in war. I hope very much that the Government have done all that they can to ensure that these mistakes never occur again and I look forward to the Minister’s response to this short, but none the less important and worthwhile debate.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has raised an important issue in the House this evening: the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts. It is important not only because his death is a loss to his family, friends and the Ministry of Defence, but because out of that tragic event there has been a board of inquiry and an inquest by the assistant deputy coroner of Oxfordshire, both of which highlighted areas where the MoD needs to learn important lessons. I believe that the Ministry of Defence has learnt those lessons, and this evening, with the indulgence of the House, I will go through in some detail what has been done.

We expect that the actions that we have taken will reduce the risk of such an incident occurring again. We have also looked more widely at the whole issue of force protection, which is our top equipment priority—as the Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support, it is my top priority. I will cover that issue in some detail. Our overriding aim is to ensure that the Armed Forces are successful on operations and that they have the equipment, the doctrine, the tactics and procedures that they need to ensure that those operations are successful, at the minimum risk to our personnel. But I know that this House recognises that, whatever action we take, these operations can never be made risk-free.

I welcome the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Luke and Lord Tyler, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, because over a considerable period he has pursued these issues on behalf of Steven Roberts’s family, to his great credit. He has spoken many times on this matter, here and in another place. I will try my best to answer the points that he made.

To briefly summarise what happened in this case, Sergeant Roberts of 8 Troop Cyclops Squadron, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was killed in Iraq while manning a vehicle checkpoint on the night of 23 to 24 March 2003. Sergeant Roberts was dismounted from his tank and deployed to stop and search traffic for militiamen and weapons, when a local man, Mr Zaher, approached the vehicle checkpoint and began throwing rocks and stones at Sergeant Roberts, some of which hit him in the head and stomach. Mr Zaher continued to advance and attack Sergeant Roberts, leading to a chain of events which resulted in members of the troop opening fire with a machine-gun in an attempt to protect him. Tragically, this resulted in Sergeant Roberts’s death.

A board of inquiry was convened to establish the circumstances that led to Sergeant Roberts’s death and to identify lessons to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. All noble Lords who spoke asked what lessons have been learnt from the comments made by the coroner. In his narrative verdict, Andrew Walker said:

“Sergeant Roberts’ death was the result of delay and serious failings in the acquisition and support chain that resulted in a significant shortage within his fighting unit of Enhanced Combat Body Armour and none being available for him to wear”.

The board of inquiry had already identified these issues in its key findings and recommendations. It made six recommendations. All six were accepted and action was taken to implement them. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, will recall that I answered a number of Questions from him on these very issues in January.

I shall go through the recommendations and the action that we have taken in detail. The board’s first recommendation concerned the provision and use of enhanced combat body armour. All personnel deployed to operational theatres in Iraq and Afghanistan are provided with enhanced combat body armour, or ECBA, and are informed of the importance of correctly fitted ECBA, as are unit quartermaster staff. As ECBA is not an individual issue item to all soldiers, training in its use is not yet included in annual individual training. Meanwhile, the military chain of command has instructed that ECBA must be worn for live-fire tactical training. This means that all British Armed Forces will use ECBA in their pre-operational training, part of which ensures that soldiers are educated in the ballistic capability of the high-velocity plates as well as the importance of the correct sizing of ECBA.

In relation to the Question that I was asked earlier in the year, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked whether all the Osprey sets of body armour had been delivered. The answer is that they have. As regards whether all the delivered equipment is in use, the implementation of this will finish this month, as has been announced.

The second recommendation was for the headquarters of the Director Royal Armoured Corps to lead the development of doctrinal notes for the employment of armoured fighting vehicles at vehicle checkpoints. These notes will apply to both war-fighting and peacekeeping scenarios and to both Royal Armoured Corps training and combined arms pre-deployment training. Doctrinal notes for the employment of Challenger 2 at vehicle checkpoints covering both war-fighting and peacekeeping scenarios were made available to all armoured regiments in December 2006. Doctrinal notes were already in place for combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) Scimitar/Spartan, Warrior and Fighting Vehicle 430 prior to the related recommendation by the board of inquiry into the death of Sergeant Roberts.

The third recommendation was that the headquarters of the Director Royal Armoured Corps should review the content of Royal Armoured Corps crew courses and ensure that crewmen at all appropriate levels understand the significance of gun-sight coincidence on armoured fighting vehicles and the inherent risks of employing weapons systems below the computed minimum range.

The Royal Armoured Corps delivers gun crew courses for Challenger 2 and the combat vehicle reconnaissance (tracked) Scimitar. Following the board of inquiry, changes have been made to all Challenger 2 crew courses to include training on the risks of employing weapons systems below the computed minimum range. All Challenger 2 crewmen are now conversant with the implications of firing weapons systems below the computed minimum range. Royal Armoured Corps crews expecting to deploy on operations are instructed by gunnery staff on these matters and individuals likely to conduct short-range shooting receive a formal machine-gun shooting lecture as part of their pre-deployment training. The other arms and services that use armoured fighting vehicles are being directed to make the necessary changes to all courses, including pre-deployment training. That is required to ensure that personnel at all appropriate levels understand the implications of using armoured fighting vehicles weapons systems at short range.

Recommendations four, five and six concerned the supply chain and asset tracking. Significant progress has been made in improving our consignment tracking capability. Specifically, our core tracking system, VITAL—visibility in transit asset logging—has now been integrated with deployed inventory systems, and improvements to training, policy and process make it easier for troops to understand what they have to do and how they are to do it within the system. Further improvements to VITAL are planned. That means that we are much better equipped to track demands from initial despatch to arrival in the unit, which is dramatically improving our knowledge of the location of particular items as they move through the supply chain. That, in turn, has significantly improved the confidence of unit quartermasters that items that they have ordered will arrive on time, particularly as they now have the ability, through the Ministry of Defence intranet and the joint demand tracking system, to track the progress of their own demands directly.

When I visit operational theatres, one of the areas that I look into personally is how well the system is working, and the feedback that I have had from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the system is working much better now. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked about the difference, as he sees it, between the answers that he was given relating to the number of body armour. That relates to a misunderstanding about the causes of the lack of a set of body armour in Sergeant Roberts’s case. Two problems were occurring at the same time. First, as he said, and as was said in the answer given to him, there was sufficient body armour for the troops potentially to be deployed on active operations; 13,000 sets, which he mentioned. But there was not sufficient also to equip the support troops that were also regarded as necessary for protection under a potential operation.

The decision not to go forward with the request to industry was for those further numbers of body armour relating to the potential deployment, and to include the sets needed for the frontline fighting elements of the force and the support elements. One of the things that we have learnt on operations is that, whereas during the Cold War the forward-fighting elements would be the forces that required force protection in terms of armour and so forth, now all elements of the supply chain are a potential target, and we have to provide force protection to them.

The other issue related to the logistics tracking system. Despite the large amount of body armour provided in theatre, the system then, unlike now, was not sufficient to ensure that the body armour could be tracked through the supply chain to ensure that it was available to the individuals who needed it. That led to the decision that was taken in the case of Sergeant Roberts. Those two problems were occurring at the same time, both of which we have addressed.

Noble Lords have rightly raised the delays, the length of time this takes and the effect that it has on families. The Ministry of Defence has taken all those points on board and has taken action to address them. For example, there are many more personnel in the Ministry of Defence to speed up both the board of inquiry process and the inquest process.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, reminded us that the coroner said that the families had waited too long for the inquest to be heard. However, I remind the House that the timing of a coroner’s inquest is not dependent on the availability of a board of inquiry. Some inquests are held without a board of inquiry. Many coroners prefer to wait until a board of inquiry has concluded to assist their investigations, but it is not necessary for the process to operate in that sequential fashion.

In the case of Sergeant Roberts, however, the Army could not conduct its board of inquiry before the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police investigation. Noble Lords have not mentioned that today. The circumstances of this case led to considerable efforts that took time in the difficult circumstances relating to the investigation. That had a significant impact on timing. The Attorney-General announced on 27 April 2006 that none of the individuals present when Sergeant Roberts was killed should face criminal charges. The board of inquiry was convened on 17 May 2006, once its terms of reference had been established and agreed and appropriate board members had been identified. The board of inquiry’s findings and recommendations were ratified by the Army’s chain of command on 26 July 2006 and published on 31 July 2006. The coroner’s inquest reconvened on 11 December. A board of inquiry cannot be convened until after all criminal investigations have been completed and any possibility of a prosecution has been discounted.

All noble Lords have highlighted the issue of force protection. The Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner said that to send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment was unforgivable. I agree. That is why I said in my opening remarks that our over-riding aim—my aim—is to ensure that the Armed Forces have the equipment to achieve success on operations, and our top equipment priority on operations is force protection.

We are spending very large sums of money to protect our people from a wide variety of potential threats. The threat profile is also changing rapidly, as noble Lords will appreciate. We have spent more than £750 million on urgent operational requirements for the theatres in Iraq and Afghanistan, including further developments beyond ECBA body armour—the noble Lord, Lord Luke, mentioned Osprey—ballistic eye protection, protection upgrades to vehicles on operations, a fleet of new protected patrol vehicles, many types of defensive aid suites and survivability enhancements.

It is important to realise that equipment is only one part of the solution. We also develop our tactics and training, and procedures to complement them. As threats evolve, we alter our methods of operating to ensure that we respond in the most effective way to the threats as they change. When we get it wrong, or an enemy overcomes our preparations and, regrettably, service personnel are injured or killed, the board of inquiry process enables us to learn lessons and to make further improvements.

I noted the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about his impression that the Ministry of Defence was putting up a brick wall and I will do everything I can to address that, so that noble Lords never again will get that impression.

I shall touch briefly on the issue characterised by the noble Lord as political expediency. On this we fundamentally disagree, as I said in answering Questions earlier this year. The Government made a judgment, taking into account the diplomatic situation. Our prime objective was to avoid having to use military operations, and our judgment at the time was that it would not be helpful to what we were trying to achieve to indicate to Saddam Hussein, or any members of the international community, that we were preparing to go to war. I understand noble Lords disagreeing with that judgment, but it was made in best faith based on the information that we had at that time. The decision relating to the time taken for us to begin our work on body armour, which would have indicated such preparation, was made on that basis. We have to disagree on that fundamental point.

The death of Sergeant Roberts and of any member of the Armed Forces is tragic. What is most important, as all noble Lords have highlighted quite rightly this afternoon, is that the Ministry of Defence properly investigates, learns the lessons and implements solutions in a robust way. The processes that I have described following the board of inquiry recommendations and the comments from the coroner’s inquest have, I believe, done that. That is not to say that it is not an area where we need to maintain effort. In my role as a Minister, I will ensure that that is carried out. All the recommendations have been acted on and carried out. The narrative verdict reinforces these findings and the Government are committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to prevent such an occurrence in future.

House adjourned at 6.22 pm.